Nobody knew quite how or when it had started, apart from Dorothy herself, and sometimes even she wasn’t quite sure, but scores of people claimed they did. Doc Moon’s daughter Dorothy was a miracle worker, said the folk in Gifford’s Creek. Doc Moon’s daughter can make the blind see and can quite probably make the deaf hear and the lame run, and the mute talk the hind leg off a mule, and make the mayor have some common sense – no, that was probably expecting too much. Even of Dotty Moon.
She had never been called Dotty until she turned twelve. Before that her Pa had always made a point of calling her Dorothy, knowing it was what her Ma (who would almost certainly have preferred to be called Mother) would have wanted and her schoolfriends called her Dora, to distinguish her from Dorothy Taylor, who was older, and so was entitled, in the hierarchy of the schoolyard, to claim the full version of the name.
Doc Moon liked to read books about all manner of things to do with medicine, and interpreted it with a breadth that was both genuine and born of necessity. He was also fond of stories about inspirational people. Though of course he went to church and expected his daughter to, he was not a wildly religious man, but did firmly believe in good examples and triumph over adversity. He was captivated by the tale of the young French boy, Louis Braille, who had given the blind a way to read and write, and had originally encountered the fact that another system existed only as a foot note. It’s only human nature that our attention is drawn to a name that’s the same as our own, and he discovered that an Englishman named Moon had originated another system, one that was preferred by people who lost their sight later in life, but one that still opened eyes that could no longer see.
He was even more fascinated to discover that there was, apparently, a form of fusion of the two – Dotty Moon. “So Dotty Moon could help the blind to see,” he muttered, gently puffing on his pipe.
Unbeknownst to him, Dorothy had entered the room. “What’s that, Pa?” she asked. “Why are you calling me Dotty?”
“Oh, something and nothing, child,” he said.
But she decided she rather liked the sound of it, and didn’t care if her classmates teased her and said, Dotty by name, Dotty by nature. She had a quick tongue and quick wits of her own, and though nobody actually knew what she had said or done to Brad Brightman when he dipped the end of her braid in the inkwell, and Miss Mayhew decided it was best not to enquire too deeply, he never did it again. There seemed to be no grudge between the two of them, and some even whispered that Brad held a torch for her, as they said.
Dotty had no time for such crazy talk as she called it. You would have thought her the most practical girl in Gifford’s Creek, though in some folk’s opinion she would be better learning how to sew a straight seam than how to groom a horse or gut a fish. In fact she was more than capable of sewing a straight seam if she had to, but could not envisage anything more tedious.
It was one of those mornings when the very air seems to have turned to dust after one of those nights when the sun never quite sets. Even though the day started early in Doc Moon’s household, it would be two hours still before the house was awake. But Dotty was wide awake, and knew she would find no more sleep, and she would have sought fresh air if there was any fresh air to be found. She half-thought she heard a wolf howling, then decided it might just be the wind that seemed to blow non-stop but not blow any stuffiness or dust away. She wouldn’t have minded if it were a wolf – she wasn’t scared of them. Her Pa had told her that you must treat them with respect and never try to make a pet of them, but if you were careful there was nothing to fear.
She trusted her Pa, but still wondered if he was right when he said that yawning was the body’s way of getting more oxygen into it because she let out a yawn now, and though she hadn’t thought she was that tired beforehand, it made her feel tired. But she still knew she would not sleep, and there was no point to seeking sleep.
Then she saw that there was a gentleman sitting in her bedroom, on the little wicker chair, and it wasn’t her Pa. Though she thought nothing much scared her, and certainly not wolves, she was about to holler for help, but then instinct told her that he meant her no harm. When he spoke she thought it was a funny way of talking, but then realised he was an Englishman. “You are distant kin of mine,” he said, “And you must carry on the work I started. I gave the blind – the blind like me – a means of reading and writing and, of course, that young French gentleman helped, too, and I won’t be churlish – but you can give them back their sight.”
“How on earth can I do that?” she asked, “Even Pa couldn’t begin to do that and he’s the best doctor in town – in the territory!” She hurriedly corrected herself, after all, he was the ONLY doctor in town!
“I am sure your Papa is a fine man,” at first she thought he was stuttering, then realised he was saying “Papa” like refined people sometimes did, or those who liked to make out they were, but it came naturally to him. “But you have been blessed with a gift that he has not. “
“If you think that’s true, sir,” she said, “Then let me prove it and heal YOUR eyes!” Dotty knew how to play poker, though of course she didn’t let on to her Pa, and knew all about bluffing. But she felt vaguely ashamed about using it to a blind man.
“There is no need of that now, Dorothy,” he said gently, “Not where I am.”
And then he had gone, and it was as if he had never been there, not even the tiniest indent on the cushion on the wicker chair, though he had seemed to be quite a heavy man. I will forget all about this, thought Dotty. That’s the best thing to do, or people will say I’ve had my brain addled by the dust and the wind.”
Of course she did not forget about it. That morning her Pa, who would never let the wind and the dust come between him and his duties, said that he was riding out to see old Mr Carson. “How is he?” asked Dotty. It had been a while since she had seen Mr Carson who lived out on the edge of town with his daughter and son in law, but she remembered he had been kind and had given her toffee.
“In many ways he does remarkably well for someone his age,” Doc Moon said, “But he has these cataracts – I believe somewhere back east there’s an operation that can be done, but …..” he had no need to finish the observation. Even in its heyday the Carson Farm had never exactly flourished. But she was puzzled – she had heard the word, but only in her geography lessons. One of the many things she loved about her Pa was that she never felt silly for asking questions of him. “Pa, what do you mean – aren’t they waterfalls?”
He smiled, a little sadly, “They are indeed, Dotty, but I’m afraid they have another meaning too – like – a film across people’s eyes that gradually steals their sight away.”
“Pa, can I ride out with you?” It was a Saturday, so there was no school, and there was even talk of there being no school next week. It wouldn’t be the first time Dotty had gone with her father on his calls. He liked the company, and they both also liked the companionable silence. “By all means if you like,” he said, “Though I fear it won’t be that exciting. And put a veil across your face to protect you from the dust.” They would be riding in an open cart, and Doc Moon could never forget that his wife, his beloved Belinda, had died of a lung infection that even the fine physician he had paid for couldn’t cure. He knew in his practical mind that it wasn’t really caused by the dust, and knew that Dotty was as strong as a young ox calf, but there were things he couldn’t get out of his mind.
The Carson farmhouse was kept as clean as a new pin, though nobody could keep the hot dust at bay, but somehow it always looked drab and down at heel and disappointed – a bit like Old Mr Carson’s daughter Emma and his son in law Ryan, who was as pleasant and polite a man as you could wish, but somehow had the look of someone who might not quite have given up on life, but had given up hoping it could get much better.
Sometimes it seemed as if despite his age and his failing sight, Old Mr Carson had more energy than the two of them put together.
Dotty had known all along what she planned to do, but could not quite believe it until she had done it. She sat down on the arm of the chair where Mr Carson was sitting, reached out her hands, and put them over his eyes, not saying anything, no kind of incantation or anything profound or poetic, but willing those pesky cataracts to go away.
“Dotty, what the …..” Doc Moon broke off, realising his original choice of word might not be appropriate when there was a lady present.
“Leave her be, doc!” Mr Carson said – and there was still an air of authority in his voice.
After a couple of minutes, she took her hands away, and it seemed as if time itself were standing still as Mr Carson blinked and then opened and closed his eyes more slowly. “Well I’ve heard tell of such things,” he said, “But – I never thought – Doc, I can see as clear as when I was a boy!”
Doc Moon could not deny the evidence of his OWN eyes. The milky whiteness that had come between Mr Carson and the world had gone.
At first, Dotty had been the calmest person in the room, but all of a sudden the full import of what had happened surged over her, and she burst into tears, muttering, “Oh Pa, what have I done? He said I could but – I never …..”
“Child, you have worked a miracle,” Emma said. “Like Father – I have heard tell of such things, of healers, but – to witness it …”
The wind and the dust finally seemed to be abating, though there was surely a storm gathering. Doc Moon spoke slowly and carefully on the way home. “Dotty, I won’t begin to say I understand what happened today. It’s true that healers exist, but often because – folk have a notion in their head about being sick and other folk have the knack to rid them of that notion. But Mr Carson – had a definite medical condition. You – you said “He” said you could – who is “He”, child?”
“I guess you think I should say Jesus, but – it wasn’t.” She told him the story as they made their way home.
“This is – a blessing and a burden, Dorothy,” he said, and she realised that he used her full name, perhaps a little out of respect, but a lot more because he was thinking of her mother, who had always liked to call her Dorothy, and who he probably thought would be far more up to dealing with this than he was.
For a few weeks, things went on as if nothing had happened, except of course, they did not. They had asked Mr Carson and his daughter and son-in-law not to speak of it, and they respected these wishes, which was not as difficult as it might have been as they led quite a reclusive life, but they did say it was “like a miracle” without mentioning any names.
It could not last. A guest at the town’s only hotel, which did not have a name, was sorely afflicted with what he termed the “rheumatics”. He was quite a young man, and though he tried to bear up bravely, he longed to ride a horse again, and just to walk across the wide prairie and dance with his girl. Even his hands were gnarled and stiff and like a very old man’s hands. Almost shyly, Dotty asked, “Pa, d’you think I should try to help Mr Finlay?”
“You – must do as you see fit, child,” he said.
Doc Moon was bringing over some liniment that he knew in advance would do little good, and he said, putting it as practically as he could, “Mr Finlay, some folk say my daughter has healing hands. We can make no promises, but would you like her to see if she can help you?”
“I’ve heard tell of such things,” Mr Finlay said, thoughtfully. “By all means let the child try.” Though, as a doctor’s daughter, Dotty was less shocked by the thought of bodies than other girls her age, she still hesitated to touch his legs, and took his hands in hers. She knew what electricity was, though only the Mayor had it in Gifford’s Creek, and imagined the feeling was a bit like an electric shock, though she couldn’t say it was painful. She was not aware of massaging them, but her own hands were moving. Five minutes later, Mr Finlay flexed and stretched his hands, and then got to his feet, and, hesitantly at first, but then like a child hurtling downstairs on Christmas morning, he ran and skipped round the room, and then fell on his knees before Dotty who said, in a calm voice not quite her own, “Mr Finlay, you must never kneel to another human!”
After that, of course, there was no stopping it, like a runaway cart rolling and plummeting down the sides of a hill. The townsfolk were both proud and protective of Dotty, and that wasn’t always an easy combination. She didn’t perform her miracles, as everyone except herself now called them, every day, even every week or every month, but she performed them. She laid her hands on the ears of the Mayor’s mother, who had become very hard of hearing, and Mrs Montague, a gentle, modest, down to earth lady, kissed her and said she would be able to hear music properly again.
“Trouble is, she’ll have to hear the Mayor talking, too,” Dotty said.
“Don’t be sassy,” her Pa rebuked her, though he did not entirely disagree. She put her hands on Mrs Meyer, the dressmaker, whose eyesight was failing from years of close work, and she could see again, clearly and perfectly. Dotty found something especially satisfying and joyful about restoring sight. After all, it was in her blood. She knew, without anyone appearing to her naturally or supernaturally (and she thought perhaps it was silly to act and think as if the two were separate) that there were things she COULD not do. She could not cure anyone of what her Pa called a growth, nor if they had caught an infectious illness like the measles or the smallpox. She could not staunch the flow of blood, nor help a woman who was with child whose child was not lying as it should be. She could not restore the mind of Max the saddler’s son who was what people called an “innocent” after being deprived of air when he nearly drowned, though he did always seem calmer and happier in her company.
Almost before she and her Pa had realised it, she had become a young woman, and she was a nice-looking one, too, she’d inherited her mother’s shiny chestnut hair and her father’s thoughtful grey eyes, and her figure, as Brad Brightman put it, went in and out in the right places. He had, however, more or less resigned himself to the thought that he and Dotty would never be more than friends.
And it was as a friend that he approached her and said, “Dotty, my brother Mick,” (he was, in fact, his half-brother, as Brad’s father had married twice, but the two were close and he thought of him as a brother, despite the fifteen years difference in their ages) “Is coming to visit with his family this Easter time.”
“That’s nice,” she said. It was the kind of thing you did say.
“Yes, but the thing is, their little girl, Henrietta, but we always call her Etta, bright as a button, but she has a lame leg from when she fell down the stairs when she was a toddler.”
“I’ll see what I can do if her parents agree to it,” she said.
Her parents agreed to it in a heartbeat, and indeed, they had asked Brad (who was privileged to be friends with Dotty Moon, the healer of Gifford’s Creek) if he would plead their case.
Etta was nine years old, though she made a point of telling folk she was almost ten, and was the kind of child who would probably never be pretty but definitely always be noticed. Plainer than her limp was the fact that she was not remotely in awe of Dotty Moon, who found that rather refreshing. “Your Ma and Pa have probably told you about this gift I sometimes have,” she said.
Etta turned keen, defiant, navy blue eyes on her. “They have. And I’m sure they mean well and sure you do, but I don’t want any help, thank you.”
“It won’t hurt, Etta, I promise you.”
“It’s not that at all! I’m not scared of a little pain. But I am the person I am. Miss Dotty, I know how it will be if my leg gets healed. Pa has always been so good to me but I know he hoped I was a boy and I know if I can run around he’ll expect me to kick a football and climb trees, and all that, and I much prefer my books and I want to go to college,”
“Etta, you could still go to college! I’m planning to and there’s nothing wrong with my legs!”
“There’s nothing wrong with mine, either! Leastways nothing I want fixing. I am how I am and I’m proud of it.”
Generally, Dotty shied away from religious talk, but she said, “You weren’t born that way, Etta, so – you can’t say it’s what God wanted for you. And do you never want – to dance?” Truth to tell, Dotty was no great dancer herself, but knew a lot of girls loved it.
“Miss Dotty, I CAN dance! I can dance in my own way!” Neither spoke for a few seconds, then Dotty realised that yes, Etta could, indeed, dance in her own way. And she must let her carry on doing.
Mick and Annie were very good about it, but Brad was cool with Dotty for a while, though he told himself that if her powers were waning it wasn’t her fault, and perhaps, just perhaps, she might start to look on him as more than just a friend.
As the carriage drove away, when Eastertide was over, Etta turned to look back on Gifford’s creek, and waved to everyone. But Dotty knew the wink was meant just for her!