1. Everyone thinks Sam Jenkins is a born bachelor, the archetypal maiden uncle who's made his family in the community he serves; that being a doctor with its demands of love and service have left him no time for a family of his own. But everyone would be wrong. Sam Jenkins first met Edith Lange at a children's birthday party for one of his many German cousins. He was twelve, Edith was eight. She had freckles and silky brown hair and eyes the colour of the dry sherry Sam's mother sipped before dinner each evening. Edith liked Sam. In between shrieking when he glanced at her, running away so he'd chase her, and skipping up to push her rag doll at him, she followed him everywhere around his uncle's farm: down to the pond, into the meadow, onto the stoop. She appeared to be very taken with him. Sam, however, was like every other boy of twelve, and pretended she wasn't there. He was very lofty and disdainful. Edith appeared not to notice. Every time he looked, she was beaming a gap-toothed smile at him.


2. Sam had never had any ambition to be a doctor. The notion had never even crossed his mind. The only son of a English trader from Bristol and the daughter of a Philadelphia merchant, he'd always thought he'd be trapped inside in his grandfather's business one day, sitting in the counting house with his attention on the ledgers, concerned with profit and loss, chasing errant dimes and pennies up one column of figures and down another. And perhaps he would have been content to grow stout and rich and flourishing, turning himself into a pillar of Philadelphia society, and be content to be a businessman. But when he was twenty-two, Edith sickened and died. It was five weeks before their wedding.


3. He took an oath that he would never again be so helpless as he was with Edith. Never. Whatever a man could do to stave off illness, to bring healthy babies into this world and fight off that old enemy, Death for as long as possible—all those things he would do. Sam keeps his promises. Sometimes he wins, and sometimes he loses, but always he fights the good fight to the best of his abilities. He's delivered dozens of babies—hundreds!—all around the San Joaquin, and he's lost count of the young Samuels who owe him their names as well as their lives. And there are dozens—hundreds—who lie slumbering in the quiet earth, the ones he couldn't keep Death from taking. Sam and Death are old acquaintances now. He's no longer afraid of the old reprobate. They've crossed swords too often for that and Sam even thinks that, one day, they'll be friends.


4. Sam's getting older now, stringier, like whipcord and pared-down endurance. His back twinges when he climbs into his buggy to do his rounds, and his hip jabs at him when he climbs down. His eyesight is fading; once sharp eyes rheumy and watering when he overuses them, reading his close-printed medical texts by lamplight when he and Death are duelling over some poor soul. He's taken to using spectacles—gold rimmed, lenses made to his own prescription. He carries them in his pocket wrapped in a silk handkerchief, embroidered in one corner with a wreath of spring flowers and the letter E. It's the only thing of Edith's he has left, but for the heart that still beats, sure and strong, in its cage of muscle and bone. That's still hers.


5. Sam Jenkins isn't a bachelor because he's a doctor. He's a doctor because he's a bachelor.




March 2014