Dude Ranch Nurse
Click on image to enlarge.
by Arlene Hale
Description: It would have been simple for Jan to stay there in Jackson City, to work at General Hospital in Monroe, to settle down to two dates a week with Tom and an eventual marriage, to fall into a dull, humdrum routine. It would have been safe, secure. But no, she had to chase her rainbows and satisfy her dreams and search for that elusive thing called happiness. So Jan Gordon came to Deer River, with its dude ranches deep in the Rockies, in order to thrust aside all the unpleasant memories of the past and rediscover herself. But Jan found that as a nurse and as a woman, she couldn't turn her back on conflict. There were two young doctors in Deer River; Jan owed loyalty to both. To Dr. Coe, Jan was bound by her conscience, but it was Dr. Noel Lester who held her heart. Nurse Jan suddenly felt happy and lighthearted as she drove young Dr. Noel Lester home. Her doubts about coming to Deer River to work for the summer began to disappear. He is nicer than I thought he would be, she thought, as they pulled up in front of the house. Helping her out of the car, he took her hand. "Come in and have dinner with me," he said. She had not hoped for this much, but she knew she wanted to stay with him. Perhaps it was all a reaction to the things that had been happening to her. Noel Lester was exciting. Handsome. The unknown. She had come here looking for something. Happiness. Love. Fulfillment. Who was to say that it wasn't right here in Noel's outstretched hand?
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 1963
eBookwise Release Date: February 2010
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [190 KB]
Reading time: 124-173 min.
The plane had soared across the flat plains, over fields of wheat and corn, droves of cattle and beet sugar farms. Now it circled the airport and waited for landing instructions. Denver, the mile high city! Jan Gordon, R.N., shivered with anticipation. It was impossible to describe the mountains as seen from the air. They were a vast world of blue ridges and green pines, of drifting white clouds and snow topped peaks. The sheer beauty of it took her breath away. Nearby, a two hour bus ride from Denver, there was a resort village called Deer River, a bustling, crowded area deep in the heart of the Rockies. Jan knew about it only through others, but what she'd heard had been enough.
"A good place to rediscover myself," Jan thought.
Behind her was heartache, grief and a lonely vigil broken by death. But she was going to forget about that now, of losing her father, of the quarrel with her married sister, Lucy, and the bitterness she had seen in Tom's eyes. Tom Bradford! Oh, Tom, please understand, she thought for the hundredth time.
"I don't see why you have to go chasing off like this," Tom had argued heatedly. "Why not stay here at home, where you belong."
But where did she belong? In the small town of Jackson City? Perhaps. She didn't know. She always thought she had until those last few days with Dad. He was gone now. She had more than done her duty in staying and caring for him. She had by-passed a floor supervisor job at the General Hospital in Monroe to stay home with him. Not that she had begrudged him a minute of her time, for she hadn't. She had seen him through the difficult illness with both the love of a daughter and the tender care of a nurse. But her life had been necessarily limited. Each day had kept her confined close to home and the sick room.
"I'm just not ready to settle down yet, Tom," she had told the tall, dark haired man she had known all her life. "I've been tied to this house, to this town. I want to get out and take stock of myself."
"Away from me!" Tom replied darkly. "I thought you loved me, Jan."
The hurt in his face had turned her heart over. She hated doing this to him and Lucy had put up a good argument too. But they all overlooked the fact that they had enjoyed their freedom while she had not.
"I'm going. For this summer at least," she told them. "Nothing will change my mind."
"But how do you know you can even get a job?" Lucy argued.
"A nurse can always get a job. Besides, Dr. Williams knows a doctor at Deer River. He gave me a letter of recommendation. I know I won't have a bit of trouble."
She was blithely confident things would work out for her. Somehow, she couldn't feel selfish about humoring this whim of hers. For nearly two years she had looked after Dad, watching with an aching heart how he failed a little each day, dying inch by inch. She remembered very clearly the day before he died. He was nearly too weak to talk, but he had grasped her hand in his and tugged her close.
"Promise me something, Jan. When this is all over, get away from here. Enjoy yourself. I've robbed you of so much time already."
Dad's thoughts of her in his hour of near death, had touched her. With tear-filled eyes, she had leaned over to kiss him. "I've cherished every minute spent with you."
Dad's blue lips lifted into the last smile she was to see from him. "I've cherished having you. You've pampered me far more than I deserved. Remember what I told you. Get away from here, find yourself again. Have fun ... for both of us."
That had really decided her. Dad had been such an active person. He loved traveling, seeing new places, going down roads he'd never trod before. Not that he had ever had much time or money for such pursuits, but the dream had always been in him.
Jan remembered this as the airplane touched its wheels down to the concrete airstrip and taxied toward the hangars. All summer she would be living for herself, but for Dad as well.
Within an hour, she had collected her luggage, found a cab and arrived at the bus station. A brief inquiry told her she had another hour to wait. Time enough to have a cup of coffee, to freshen her make-up, perhaps to stroll some of the streets of the city.
The sun shone brightly and hot for so early in the day. Denver was busy and stirring. It was a place she intended to visit often in her spare time. She caught a glimpse of herself in a shop window, a small girl with her dark hair slightly wind-blown, a pleasant smile on her lips. The strain of the last few days showed plainly in the little crease in her forehead and the dark smudges under her eyes. But that would soon leave. Once she reached Deer River, she intended to shake off all memories. If only Dr. Williams' letter of recommendation would get her settled in a good job! The letter was written to a Dr. Lester whom she understood had practiced at Deer River all his life.
A quick look at her watch told her there was no more time to window shop, so she hurried back to the bus station. "All aboard," the driver was shouting.
She was lucky enough to get a seat by the window. After leaving the sprawling city of Denver, they headed for the foothills. Gradually, the air grew cooler and as they wound over the roads, up slopes, down slopes, around hairpin curves, she found herself clutching nervously to her seat. Peering down into deep valleys, she felt as if she were going to fall, that the driver was much too near the edge of the road.
"First time in the mountains?" a voice asked.
The girl in the seat beside her had been asleep before they left the Denver city limits, but now her blue eyes twinkled at Jan with friendliness.
"First time," Jan admitted. "It's a little scary."
"These bus drivers seem reckless, but they're not. It's easier if they keep their speed up. That way they don't have to worry so much about their motors overheating."
"You sound experienced," Jan smiled. "An old hand?"
"I've been coming to Deer River for the last four years. I'm Patricia Adams. But everyone calls me Tish."
"I'm Jan Gordon," Jan answered. "I'm going to Deer River too. If I can find work, I want to stay there."
Tish took a compact from her purse and peered at herself in the mirror, combing her sleek, dark bangs with her fingers and rubbing a powder puff over her pertly tilted nose. "The place is swarming with tourists already," Tish said. "Of course, a lot of college kids go there, mostly for a lark and they grab a lot of the work. What sort of thing do you do?"
"I'm a registered nurse," Jan replied.
Tish's eyebrows went up. "You're too pretty to be a nurse, but if you are, there are two doctors there. They always say good nurses are hard to find!"
"Any preference between the two doctors?" Jan asked.
Tish snapped her compact shut. "Sure. Dr. Lester. He's old and crusty, but experience is a good teacher. I figure he's seen just about everything in the book."
Jan gripped her purse tighter, feeling somehow as if this recommendation from a complete stranger was a good omen. Dr. Lester. Old and crusty. Well, she'd worked with that type before. She could get along with almost any doctor if she put her mind to it. It worried her a little though, being out of practice, as she was. Dad had required a great deal of care and she had been concentrating on just one case for so long, she had forgotten what it was like to treat something as simple as an infected throat.
Through the bus window, Jan saw the rushing stream that Tish told her was Deer River. It made a music of its own as it foamed and sped over the rocks, coming down from melting snow on top of the mountains. She saw several men in hip boots walking in the water, casting and recasting their lines.
"Do they catch anything?" Jan wondered.
Tish laughed. "I suppose so or they're just persistent cusses. Rainbow trout's what they're after. Delicious eating."
"What sort of work do you do, Tish?" Jan asked.
"I paint. I own a little shop at Deer River called Patricia's Place. Mostly, I decorate men's ties. Not exactly what I intended to do when I first studied art, but it's a living. Business is usually good at Deer River."
"But that's only for the summer, isn't it?"
"In the winter, I do serious painting, living on beans and soup mostly, after my summer earnings run out," Tish laughed. "But I'm happy. What else matters?"
Indeed, what else? Jan sighed. It had been a long time since she had been happy. She wondered sometimes if she ever would be. Happiness had been an elusive thing, even when everything seemed to be going right. Then with Dad so desperately ill, she had felt lucky merely to be alive and well. But real deep down happiness had always been just out of her grasp. She wondered why. What was it she was looking for? For fulfillment? But nursing was so satisfying. Love? But Tom loved her. It just wasn't enough somehow. But this summer she would find the answers. In her mind, Deer River seemed the magic place that would fill all her needs.
"When we reach the next curve, you can look down in the valley and see the town of Deer River," Tish told her. "You're in for quite a sight. It's beautiful. Even after all the times I've seen it, I still get a lump in my throat."
The bus slowed as they climbed the long slope and made the turn. Nestled between the mountains, wrapped in a hazy blue atmosphere, was Deer River. A nearby lake glittered in the sun, buildings here and there were dots among the green of trees and the brown of rocks. She saw a church spire, a large white building Tish said was a big hotel, and everywhere were cars, coming and going.
"Welcome to Deer River," Tish said with a lively grin. "May fortune shine her sweet face on you!"
All the way to Deer River, they had passed numerous ranches and cottages. A string of horseback riders came down the highway and Jan smiled eagerly to herself. That was something she wanted to try sometime while she was here. It looked like fun.
The main street of the town was parked full of cars and people thronged through the streets. Jan's eyes widened with surprise. "Is it always this busy?" she wondered.
Tish replied with a droll smile. "It better be, partner, or me and a few hundred others would be out of business! But this does look like a good year. People are out early. August is usually the peak of the season and this is only June."
The bus hissed and groaned along the busy street and finally pulled off to the left and came to a halt in a large parking lot. "Deer River," the driver announced. "There'll be a fifteen minute rest stop."
Tish gathered a big bundle with the wrappings of a Denver art store and a small overnight bag from the rack over their heads and disappeared with a wave of her hand and a shout of good luck. Jan felt lonely after she'd gone.
The first thing to do was to check her luggage. She did this at the station, pocketed the key to the locker and stepped out into the bright sunlight. The air was crisp, clean smelling, pine scented. Her eyes roved hungrily on the peaks that surrounded the town. The beauty of them awed her. Was it possible that just a few hundred miles from Jackson City, something like this had always existed and she was just now seeing it for the first time? Oh, what people were missing at home!
"Taxi, lady?" a driver asked.
"Yes," she replied. "Dr. Lester's office."
The cab driver tipped his hat and jerked open the door for her. The driver whisked away and nervously, Jan clutched her purse. Quickly, in her compact mirror, she checked the condition of her make-up, ran a comb hastily through her hair and wondered if this was a mistake. Perhaps she should have found a room first, took a bath, changed clothes.
"Here we are, Ma'am."
It hadn't taken long. Ten minutes at the most. She was startled to see the shabby building with the faded sign on the outside. Was this Dr. Lester's office? She gnawed at her lip with uncertainty.
"Shall I wait, Ma'am?" the driver asked.
"Oh no. Thank you."
She paid the fare and got out. The waiting room was open, but there was no one there. She found a sign on the door that said afternoon office hours began at two o'clock. It was noon now. It would be a long wait, but as long as she was here, she might as well stay.
The waiting room had seen better days. There was no other way to put it. What kind of a doctor was Dr. Lester anyway? Old and crusty, Tish had said. Eccentric too, perhaps? This waiting room--what the floor needed was new linoleum, a good coat of wax. The walls needed paint; in fact, there wasn't a thing that didn't need work. Was he such a poor doctor that business couldn't warrant sprucing things up a little?
Waiting in the quiet room, with the hum of traffic outside the door, Jan grew drowsy. It had been a long trip here, not in actual distance, but in spirit. It would have been simple to let herself stay there in Jackson City, to work at General Hospital in Monroe, to settle down to two dates a week with Tom and an eventual marriage, to fall into a dull, humdrum routine. It would have been safe, secure. But no, she had to chase her rainbows and satisfy her dreams and search for that elusive thing called happiness.
She must have fallen asleep, for suddenly, she was aware that someone was nudging her. With a start, her eyes flew open and in an instant, she remembered where she was. A nurse looked down at her from over a sharp nose and a wide mouth, taking in at a glance Jan's trim dress, thin heeled shoes and sheer hose.
"Do you wish to see the doctor?" she asked.
Jan straightened and wet her lips nervously. "Why, yes, I do. On a business matter, not as a patient."
The nurse sniffed and nodded gruffly. "He'll be along shortly. Your name please."
"Miss Gordon. Jan Gordon."
The nurse made a note on a pad of paper. On sight, Jan didn't like this nurse. She had met her type before, the buxom, hard-eyed, tough kind that could chew out a student nurse without batting an eyelash. She was the type that sassed patients, jabbed roughly with the needle and ate spike nails for breakfast.
Far away, in the back of the building, Jan heard the opening and closing of a door. The nurse moved away and disappeared down a hall. A murmur of voices drifted out to Jan. Finally, the nurse reappeared and crooked her finger at Jan. "This way," she said.
Jan followed the broad back into a small office. This place too was shabby, with a leather chair that sagged in the middle, a desk that was scarred from many years of use and dingy pictures on the wall. The lump in Jan's throat kept getting bigger. This was not exactly what she had in mind. Even Dr. Williams' office at Jackson City hadn't been this bad.
Jan heard footsteps outside the door and knew they belonged to an older man. They seemed tired and shuffled a little. The door opened and Jan looked up.
"Hello, Miss Gordon. I'm Dr. Lester."
"Hello," Jan replied.
The doctor's hair was white, curly and rumpled. His face was burned brown by the sun and fell into stern lines around his mouth. The chin looked hard and unrelenting. His eyes were shaded by a jutting brow and she couldn't see the expression in them. He was wearing a loud printed sport shirt. The trousers were in the western tradition, made of a heavy beige twill with slash pockets and in need of pressing. A pair of scarred cowboy boots rounded out the picture. The only thing missing was a battered Stetson and Jan would have bet a cookie he had one somewhere. She turned her startled eyes away quickly, afraid he would catch her staring at him with disbelief.
Dr. Lester sat down with a sigh in the old leather chair and swiveled it around to face her. "Miss Schmidt tells me you want to see me about business. Well, if you're selling something. I'm not buying. Which is it this time? A dude ranch or a horse?"
Jan laughed with bewilderment. "Neither."
Dr. Lester's bushy white eyebrows went up. "Thank God! People around here seem to think I'm made of money. Won't rest until they take it out of my pocket and put it in theirs."
"I'm an R.N.," she replied, feeling intimidated by this overpowering man. "I'm looking for work. I have a letter of recommendation."
With groping fingers, she drew out the white envelope from her purse and handed it to him. He opened it slowly, thoughtfully and the whole while, she could sense that he was studying her in a minute way, almost dissecting her to see what made her tick.
"Well, Dr. Williams! Drat his old gizzard! Haven't heard from him in years. I suppose he's still in that little town, going along in his happy-go-lucky way. All wind and no sail, that's him."
Jan didn't know what to say to that, so she said nothing. "Why are you out here, Miss Gordon?" Dr. Lester asked. Jan lifted her chin slightly. Was he suspicious of her being here? Did he suspect something wrong in her background that had forced her to leave home?
"I came because I wanted to, because I wanted to see what was on the other side of the prairie."
"Young people!" he replied. "Always full of ideas."
She caught her breath at the note of disapproval she heard in his voice.
"All right, Missy, let's get down to brass tacks," he said at last.
They talked for nearly an hour. He barely glanced at her credentials. He seemed more interested in finding out for himself what she did and didn't know. When he finally finished with his questions, he knew about her nursing background, her father's death, her romantic entanglements, her family and even had a good idea her bank account was in a sad state. He leaned back, tapping his fingers on the old desk.
"I think Noel will like you," he said. "Of course, he hates Schmidt, but he'll have to get along with her. Schmidt and me understand each other."
"Excuse me, sir, but who is Noel?"
Dr. Lester peered at her as if it was unthinkable that she didn't know. "My son. He's a doctor too. He'll be coming in with me this summer."
"All right, Jan. You're hired on approval from Noel. At any rate, he won't be here for a few days. You can get acquainted with the office and draw your salary until then. He'll have the final say. Got a place to stay?"
"No," Jan answered.
He scratched a few words on a piece of paper and handed them to her. "If you want something that's not all fancied up with a big tourist price on it, this should do it. Tell them Doc sent you. Report to work in the morning at eight."
With that, the old doctor got up and strode out of the room, leaving Jan a little bewildered and stunned. She stared at the slip of paper. Piney Acres. Deer River Road. With a sigh, she looked around her. So this was where her great adventure was to begin. She was almost glad that Lucy and Tom back home, couldn't see her now!