1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 09

“There was so much to learn,” she said, without looking back. “So many books, so many papers, so many new techniques. He took it all in like a drunkard who could not help himself.

“He died in Grantville,” she said at last, turning to face Gordon. “He was simply too old — his heart was weak, and I could not save him. Even Doctor Nichols could not save him. It was just as it was when my mother died: my father could not save her either.

“I was ready to journey back to Jansköping. I was going to return home and…”

Again she looked away, letting her thoughts be dispersed by the sea breeze. Gordon waited for her to continue; when she said nothing, he said, “That was never going to happen.”

“A consideration of what might have been is a subject every up-timer should understand, Min Herre Chehab –“

“Gordon. Else I’ll be obliged to call you Frau Doktor Skoglund every three minutes.”

“Gordon.” She pronounced it clipped and short-voweled; he decided at that moment that he liked the sound of his name on her lips. “Very well. I do not think about what might have been, as it has no meaning now. But I do confess that I am still surprised at what happened…how I have reached this point.”

Gordon did not answer, but waited for Ingrid to continue.

“When my father died,” she said, “I assumed that I would be dismissed — I was no more than a Swedish midwife, after all, and not the renowned Doctor Hjalmar Skoglund. Everything I had ever known, everything that the world had taught me, assured me that the only way I had been able to learn the medical arts was because of my father’s indulgence.

“It was all gone: it was as if it had never been — except for the kindness and generosity of Doctor James Nichols. I could never imagine that anyone would have extended himself, especially a — a –“

“A man from the future,” Gordon finished her sentence; he wasn’t sure what word she was going to use to finish that sentence — something to describe his skin color, presumably — but decided that he didn’t want to hear it.

“…Yes,” she said, smiling. “A man from the future. He told me that he admired my talents and my intelligence and that…ahem.” She placed a hand on her chest and said in a faux deep voice, “‘There are damn few doctors worth the title, girl, and we can’t afford to lose you.'”

It was actually a very decent impression of Nichols’ voice; Gordon couldn’t help but smile.

“You mock me, Min Herre…Gordon.” But her heart wasn’t in it: she was smiling as she spoke.

“I do no such thing. Dr. Nichols is a wonderful man. Thank God he was in Grantville for Rita Stearns’ wedding when the Ring of Fire happened.”

“Our God is mighty and wise,” Ingrid said. “And Dr. Nichols is wise as well. He arranged for me to study a year in Salerno.” When Gordon did not seem to understand, she added, “The Schola Medica Salernitana. I did not know that there were women doctors, but in Salerno I learned from the best of them. There was so much to learn and so little time…”

“And you were a drunkard as well, like your father.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “But I was better prepared for it. I learned everything I could, and then returned to Grantville. I even have a fair copy of the Trotula Major — it is in my cabin if you would like to see it.”

A doctor’s version of the etchings? Gordon thought and almost said — but obviously she meant nothing else by her words; the Trotula Major was obviously a big deal, whatever it was.

“Impressive,” he said at last.

“You appreciate scholarship,” she said. “Or so it seems.”

“What about Sofia?” Gordon asked.

Ingrid looked at her servant, who had continued to look out to sea, only glancing occasionally to see if her mistress required her assistance.

“She is devoted to me, because I saved her life. She was with us in Grantville — it was a wonder to her, as it was to all of us — and when I went to Salerno she naturally came with me. There she became very ill and I nursed her back to health.”

Ingrid looked away before Sofia returned her attention to the doctor — as if she did not want her to be disturbed, or perhaps did not want this conversation to end.

“I believe I have fulfilled my obligation, Gordon. You must now tell me about yourself.”

The matter-of-fact turn caught Gordon by surprise for just a moment; but he recovered. “I don’t think I have too much to tell. I’m just a regular guy — I was born in ’76 — 1976 — and was twenty-four at the time of the Ring of Fire. I hadn’t decided what I was going to do with myself; I was more concerned about Pete: he was always getting into trouble, and I think I hadn’t been as good a brother as I might have been –“

Ingrid put up her hand. “I believe I asked you to tell me about yourself, not your brother. I feel that I understand him quite well.”

“Really. I’m not sure I do.”

“Oh, you dissemble with me. Your brother is young and assertive, a typical soldier from any age: he believes himself invincible and attractive to every woman at every moment. He is married, and yet his eyes follow Sofia — and me — whenever we come into view.”

“I’ll kill him,” Gordon said.

“I do not feel threatened,” Ingrid said. “I will let you know if that changes.”

“For sure.”

“In any case, your brother is not of interest. As for you…you call yourself a ‘regular guy’: but every up-timer is from a place we can scarcely imagine. What you must think about our time…”

“I talked about this with Pete — I know, I know,” Gordon said, holding up his hands. “A lot of up-timers think of the seventeenth century as a second chance. But even if it’s a second chance for Grantville, the story would have been lots different if a piece of a big city had been thrown back here, or a piece of a big university with lots of professors — “

“I would guess,” Ingrid said, “that it would have been a disaster. A big city from your time, from what I have read and heard, would have been full of people who would have been slaughtered by the first troop of cavalry that rode through. As for a university full of professors: if they were anything like the universities of today, they would never be prepared for this time.

“I am inclined to believe that the Lord of Hosts chose the exact place to bring back to us: a small, remote town with good people.”

“We’re not all good people, Ingrid.”

“Enough of you are,” she said, and smiled again. It was as if the sun had peeked out from behind one of the clouds above.

He told her about growing up in Grantville, about his family, about his home and his travels after high school…and about the balloon festival in Albuquerque that made him want to fly. She listened with close attention — but he wasn’t sure whether she truly understood.

It was going to be interesting when she first went up…he wondered what her reaction would be.

Finally he decided he had talked enough, and that Sofia had looked out at the ocean enough. He stood and offered a polite bow, then walked away, trying to decide what he was going to do with Pete when he found him.