Wishing Star of Harmony Creek

Chapter 2
It's Christmas time in Harmony Creek, and Sadie Bergstrom has a Christmas wish she doubts will ever come true, even though she wants it more than anything in the world. Her family's hired hand, Lucas O'Brien, has an impossible wish of his own. 

Can wishing on the Christmas star make their dreams come true?  

Chapter 2: The Borstads 

As soon as they left the town behind, Sadie untied the bonnet’s strings and let it fall down her back. The sky rose in a blue arc above them, intensifying in color the higher she looked. She filled her lungs with the fresh autumn air and a surge of well-being spread through her. 

“What a beautiful blue!” She lifted her face to the sky. “I feel dreadful leaving Mother to finish all the chores, but it’s good to get out of the house. I haven’t been anywhere except church for the longest time, since—why, since before Baby Alice came.”

She realized she was chattering nervously and fell silent. 

Lucas didn’t say anything. She didn’t really expect him to. But he looked over at her and the corners of his mouth lifted into a smile. It was a quiet smile, a little shy, but still, it transformed his face into something completely different from his usual serious self. She noticed again how blue his eyes were, the same deep blue as the pre-dawn sky where she’d seen the morning star. His dark eyelashes were so long and thick, too, and even curled at the ends, so much more attractive than her own. Blond eyelashes and eyebrows were so—so insipid by comparison. 

Sadie gave herself a mental shake. What was she doing, thinking about something as silly as Lucas O’Brien’s eyelashes when she was on her way to her first-ever house call? “How many are sick at the Borstads?” she said, changing her friendly tone to something much more brisk and businesslike. 

He frowned in concentration and took one hand off the reins to count on his fingers. “Six, I think. They’ve all got it pretty bad except Mr. Borstad, who seems about middling. The hired boy was doing fine but he seems to be catching it now too, poor lad.” 

“What did Father do to treat them?”

“Weren’t time to do much. The fellow who came and found us said his brother with the gunshot wound was bleeding bad and wouldn’t last the day if Doc didn’t go right off, so he had to go pretty quick. Left you a bag of supplies, though.” 

Sadie clasped her hands tightly in her lap. “I wish he was going to be there with us. What if something goes wrong?” 

“Don’t worry, Miss Sadie. You’ll do fine.” 

She looked over at him. “I guess you’ve done this so often that you don’t worry. This is the first time for me.” 

He lifted one shoulder. “I just do what Doc tells me to do.” 

The matter-of-fact way he said it made Sadie feel a sharp pinch of annoyance. That was another reason why she had always kept Lucas O’Brien at arm’s length. He lacked gumption. Going around with her father, he had the golden opportunity to see all kinds of patients and learn from how Father treated them, but it all seemed to be wasted on him. She’d heard her father praise him as “his good right hand,” but it was obvious to Sadie that Lucas had no inborn love of doctoring. This was just a job for him. 

What a waste, she thought, not for the first time. She fell silent and they didn’t speak again until they reached the narrow track that led to the Borstads’ homestead. 

The Borstads lived in a small, single-story log cabin, scarcely more than a shed, surrounded by a scattering of rickety outbuildings. A few chickens pecked at the ground around the cabin, and a scrawny hound chained to one corner bayed at them as they climbed out of the buggy. Sadie wondered how six people could live in such a tiny building. She’d thought her own house was crowded, but this was much much smaller. A sad look of poverty and neglect hung over the place. 

As she followed Lucas up the muddy path to the cabin door Sadie noticed that there was no smoke rising from the chimney. The fire must have gone out. No wonder he had brought all that firewood. The load of split wood he held in his arms was tall enough that it almost hid his face. 

He announced their presence by kicking the door with one booted foot, then groped for the latch string, pulled it, and pushed open the door without waiting for anyone to answer. Sadie came close behind him, holding the pot of soup in both hands.

The fusty smell that rushed out through the cabin’s open door made her take an involuntary step backward. 

“Shut that door!” a man’s voice shouted testily from somewhere inside. “Don’t you know you’re letting in the bad air?”

“Goodness,” Sadie said faintly. How could the outside air be any worse than what they were breathing inside the cabin? She set her jaw firmly and followed Lucas inside, taking care to turn and push the door shut with one knee. 

The cabin was a single room shanty with two small windows, one on each long side, that shed a feeble light on the gloom inside. After Sadie’s eyes adjusted to the dimness, she saw a bed in the far corner, and other people lying on the floor on pallets, under ragged blankets.

Lucas picked his way through the semi-darkness to what looked like a kitchen area, with a stove, a bucket, a table heaped with dirty dishes and saucepans,  and a few rickety looking chairs. He dumped his load of wood on the floor, knelt in front of the cast iron stove, and swiftly started laying kindling to build a fire. 

Sadie stood inside the door with the soup pot still heavy in her hands. Where to start? First things first—find a place for the soup. She put the pot on the floor and cleared a spot for it on the table, then set it there before she went to the bed in the corner. 

Mr. and Mrs. Borstad lay in it together, both looking weak and feverish. A raggedy beard covered most of Mr. Borstad’s face, but his cheekbones were flushed and his eyes were rimmed with pink. In contrast, Mrs. Borstad’s face looked bloodless, almost gray. 

Sadie noticed anxiously how the poor woman’s chest heaved under the bedclothes as she tried to breathe. She leaned over so they could see her without having to sit up. “I’m Sadie Bergstrom. My father sent me to help you.”

Mrs. Borstad didn’t even open her eyes. 

But Mr. Borstad lifted his head and stared at Sadie. “You? All Doc sent us was a little girl? I thought we’d get some real help.” 

Sadie’s pulse stuttered and her stomach clenched. She told herself to stay calm, that of course he was disappointed. Of course he’d rather have her father take care of his family, instead of a girl barely old enough to wear her hair up.

“Well, I’m older than I look. And I’ll do my best,” she promised. She bent lower to listen to Mrs. Borstad’s breathing and heard the air crackling as it went in and out. The grippe had plainly taken hold in her lungs. 

Just as she straightened, the sick woman went into a long fit of coughing that was painful to hear. Mustard plaster, Sadie thought. It was the best treatment for congested lungs. But she needed hot water to make it. She could see Lucas was already taking care of that, but it would take some time for the water to heat. Before she did anything else, she should see how many other patients she had to deal with and just how sick they were. 

Quickly she made a circuit of the room. Two young boys lay huddled together on a pallet near the fireplace. A slightly older girl lay limply on the floor next to them on a bunched up quilt. A scrawny teenager, the family’s hired boy, sat on the floor with his back against the cabin wall, shivering in a torn work shirt. Every one of them was feverish, and the two boys were coughing, but none of them seemed as sick as their mother. 

When she straightened from talking to the last child, she saw that Lucas had finished stoking the fire and put the soup pot and water kettle on the stove to heat. He was collecting and stacking the dirty dishes. A man doing women’s work! A warm feeling of gratitude came over her. She couldn’t picture any of her brothers lifting a finger to help her that way.

She gestured towards the shivering hired boy. “Lucas, he is freezing. Please see if you can find a blanket or something to wrap him in. I’ll put the flannel on the stove to warm. And they’ll all need fresh water to drink. Is there a clean cup or ladle?”

She saw then that he already had the bucket and a ladle in his hands. Clearly, this was a well-known drill for him. 

“I’ll give them all a little drink to start, ” he promised. She nodded, then returned to the bed and laid her hand gently on Mrs. Borstad’s forehead. The skin felt dry and very hot. “Mrs. Borstad,” she said. When the woman didn’t answer, Sadie turned to her husband. “Has she had any medicine, or anything to drink?” 

He shook his head. “Can’t keep nothing down.” 

“The grippe has gotten into her lungs. I’d like to put a mustard plaster on her to help her breathe easier.” 

“Mustard plaster!” Mr. Borstad scoffed. 

“My father always uses them for lung congestion.” 

“What she really needs is bleeding for her fever. Doctors bled me good at the army hospital when I got typhoid during the war. Knocked the fever right down.”

Sadie tried to arrange her face into confident lines. “My father used to bleed patients when he was an army doctor, but he says he doesn’t hold with it any more. It only makes people weaker.” 

Mr. Borstad’s flushed face went even redder and he struggled up to a half-sitting position. “Are you gonna tell me you know better than me what’s good for my own wife? You, a little half-grown girl?” 

Sadie colored with embarrassment and anger. It felt wrong to argue with a grown man. Mr. Borstad must be twenty years older than she was. But she knew she was right. “I only want to help Mrs. Borstad’s cough, so she can get some rest.”

“Don’t you touch her!” the sick man rapped out angrily. “You’ll only make things worse!” 

A floorboard creaked. She glanced back and saw Lucas stepping up behind her. 

He stood firmly, hands on hips, and looked down at Mr. Borstad. Sadie suddenly felt how tall he was, and how solidly built. His face was as impassive as ever, but there was something fierce in the set of his shoulders that Sadie had never seen before. “Doc sent Miss Sadie here because he thinks she can help you. How about you let her try it?” His tone was respectful, but firm. “If the mustard plaster don’t work, then he can take over treating you when he comes back.”

“Well, he shouldn’t of took off and left us like that!” Mr Borstad grumbled. The belligerence in his voice dwindled into more of a whine. His face was still red, but he seemed intimidated by Lucas. He sank back onto his pillow and grumbled something under his breath about useless girls. 

Sadie shot Lucas a grateful look which he met with a reassuring smile. 

“I’ll get the stuff your Paw left for you.” As he turned away, Sadie felt one of her hands reaching out as if to hold on to his sleeve, and instantly dropped it, cheeks burning in shame. How silly and childish! She was no child, despite what Mr. Borstad said, but a full grown woman. Why, her mother had already been married and mistress of her own home, with a baby on the way, at Sadie’s age!

She took a deep breath to steady herself and turned back to her patient. When Lucas came back to the bedstead, the two of them turned Mrs. Borstad from her back onto her stomach, with her head turned to one side so she could breathe. Sadie was impressed at how deftly Lucas handled the sick woman. Of course, he must have had lots of practice. 

The mustard plaster was a paste of flour and ground mustard seeds, spread inside a large folded piece of cheesecloth. Sadie made them for her father at home and he always took them with him on house calls for situations like this. She wet the plaster in hot water, then smoothed it onto Mrs. Borstad’s back between the shoulder blades, over her nightgown so it wouldn’t burn her skin, and covered it with a piece of the heated wool flannel. Mrs. Borstad moaned a little as the heat from the mustard started to penetrate, but to Sadie the sound was encouraging. At least she was responding. 

Mr. Borstad had turned on his side away from them, ostentatiously ignoring their ministrations to his wife. Sadie looked at his broad back in a dingy night shirt and decided he was too feisty to be dangerously ill.

She turned her attention back to the hired boy and the children. She had heard a couple of them coughing while she and Lucas treated their mother, but she thought fever was their most pressing symptom. She noticed that Lucas had already found a blanket and wrapped the hired boy in it, and was now going around again with the water dipper. 

They would need more liquids and cold compresses to ease the fever. She could also brew a tisane of willow bark or bloodroot. If her patients could keep the medicine down, it should make them feel better. After that, a small amount of soup. And she’d change the mustard plaster as soon as she could, too, and perhaps rub some of the pine balsam liniment onto everyone’s chests. Well, everyone but Mr. Borstad. She’d ask Lucas to handle that task, she thought with an inward smile. 

With a sudden surge of confidence Sadie realized she knew just what to do. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work.


Sadie straightened from helping the youngest child drink another ladle of water and noticed gray light coming in through the cabin windows. Was it morning already? No wonder her back ached. She’d been stooping down over her patients all night. 

Strands of hair had escaped from her braided bun and fallen over her eyes. She used her forearm to push them back, then surveyed the cabin, taking satisfaction from seeing the quietly sleeping family, the dishes now washed and stacked, the table wiped clean, and the floor swept as best she could. 

Lucas had attended to the chamber pots, and the room looked and smelled much fresher. Mrs. Borstad was propped up against several pillows and breathing easier. Mr. Borstad had even grudgingly admitted that the mustard plaster seemed to have done her some good. 

Sadie couldn’t remember ever feeling so tired, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep yet. She made one last round of her patients, tucking in a blanket here, wiping a sweaty face there. Then she tiptoed to the door, opened it as quietly as she could, and stepped outside. 

The whole night had gone by and dawn had come again. A few thin shreds of cloud clung to the eastern horizon. Above them shone the bright star she’d seen at this time yesterday. It felt like a very long time ago. 

She dropped onto her haunches and wrapped her arms around her knees. Helping the Borstads had been satisfying, but frustrating, too. What she’d done was nursing. She had applied the best remedies she knew, and they had seemed to help the Borstads to a degree, but not nearly enough, when she thought of how much pain and suffering the grippe had inflicted on them. 

She was glad she’d been there to nurse the sick family. They had needed someone to put cool cloths on their fevered brows and make sure they drank enough water and took their medicine. But Sadie wanted to do much more than that. She wanted to learn everything there was to know about medicine, and maybe someday help find better treatments or even ways to keep people from getting sick in the first place. 

She had read about the pioneering doctors searching for new ways to help the sick in her father’s medical books and journals, which she smuggled into her bedroom to read by candlelight after her little sister Jenny went to sleep. But what hope did she have of becoming one of them? How could a girl from Harmony Creek, Minnesota even think of becoming a doctor at all? 

She looked up at the bright star that hung in the dawn sky, shining down at her like a tiny beacon of hope the Creator had put there just for her to see. She clasped her hands tightly together and screwed her eyes shut. Please, Lord, she prayed, help me find the way to become a doctor. I don’t know why you would have given me this dream, this desire to help others in this way, this gift, if you didn’t want me to fulfill it! I know I’m just a puny little human, and I understand so little about your mysterious ways, but if it’s your will for me to fulfill this dream, I pray you will show me the way to do it. 

A sense of peace crept over her. She relaxed, opening her eyes. The sun had edged up over the eastern horizon and the morning star had faded from view. She was getting wearily to her feet when she saw Lucas coming from the large shed where the Borstads kept their animals, carrying a bucket of fresh milk. Milk! Her mouth watered, and her stomach gave an embarrassingly loud gurgle of hunger. Her cheeks flamed but Lucas did not seem to have heard. As she rose to her feet, he came closer and set the pail down, and began fishing for something in one of his coat pockets. 

“Fellow just brought me a note from Doc,” he said. “He wants me to take you back to town. I’ll pick him up later over in Weston.” 

Sadie shot him a dismayed look. “What about the Borstads? We can’t just leave them. They’re a lot better, but they are still too sick to take care of themselves.” 

“Doc’s note said he found a neighbor who’ll come help out today. And Doc and I’ll stop in again on our way back from Weston.” He handed over the folded slip of paper and she took it automatically.

“And what about you? When are you going to get some sleep?” Lucas had been up as long as she had. Like her, he had worked the whole day and night through. He must be as exhausted as she was. Now he had to spend all day today driving her and Doc around. 

He grinned. “Don’t worry. The horse knows the way home. He doesn’t need me to steer. I can nap while I drive.” 

But it was Sadie who fell asleep on the drive back to Harmony Creek. She woke up with a start when the buggy stopped rocking and jolting and found herself leaning against something solid. A warm weight around her shoulders held her steady. For a moment she stayed where she was, a little befuddled. She felt so safe and warm, so relaxed. Then, the support around her body lifted away and she realized John’s arm had been around her and she had been leaning on his chest while she slept. She sat up with a gasp and looked around. The buggy stood in their own yard, between their house and the stable behind. Why, they had come all the way home! Had she been leaning on him the whole time? And had his arm been around her all that way? 

A wave of heat came over her face. Quickly she edged away from him. “Oh my goodness! Why didn’t you wake me?”

He smiled. “Didn’t have the heart. You were sleeping so peaceful.” 

She’d never noticed before how his eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. And why was she noticing it now? Her blush deepened. “Did I sleep all the way home?” 

“Just about.” He was still smiling. Now she saw how nice and straight his teeth were, and how the rising sun caught colorfully in his morning beard. He was looking at her too, and he suddenly stopped smiling, though his eyes were soft. He put up a hand to gently brush away some of her hair which had come down from its bun and was strewn across the front of his coat.  

Sadie couldn’t breathe for a moment. Maybe she’d forgotten how. 

Then the horse looked back at them and snorted. He was clearly asking why the humans were taking so long to unharness him when he was hungry and wanted his oats. He tossed his head, making the harness jangle, and stomped his feet. 

“All right, all right, old Prince. Hold your oats. I’m coming.” Lucas shot Sadie a shy grin, looped the reins around the whip, and climbed down out of the buggy. 

Before he could come around to help her, as he clearly intended to do, Sadie scrambled down by herself and practically leapt into the yard in her eagerness to get away from this embarrassing situation. She ran straight into the house, not looking back. 

(To be continued…)

Read Chapter 1 of The Wishing Star

Read Chapter 3 of The Wishing Star

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