Only one offer comes of Ephraim’s application to teach or preach: from Yankton, capital of Dakota Territory. Back to the wild West that was so wrong for him in Kansas, and with new worries. Only three years earlier Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse slaughtered General Custer and his troops at Little Bighorn. Though the Sioux Lakota tribes have now been driven back there are the realities of the territory’s distances and its climate: droughts, bitter winters, searing summers, tornadoes, locusts, prairie fires.
Unable to practice medicine because he still blames himself for his child’s death, Ephraim accepts with grim determination. Yankton is the base for a new frontier, a port for steamboats on the Missouri river. In 1879 Ephraim, the pregnant Helena and two-year-old Frieda arrive by train. Homesteaders live in sod huts, immigrants and prospectors flood in. However, life in the town is far from makeshift. Yankton has schools, brickworks, goods stores, breweries, hotels, banks, a court house, a daily newspaper and ten churches. Ephraim’s post: pastor of the Baptist church, the longest established Protestant congregation in the capital.
In A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Chapter 30) fifty-year-old Ephraim buckles down to the compromises of maturity. His long rides over the prairie on horseback impose solitude and time to solve a Hebrew puzzle that challenges Bible scholarship. Embers stir and burst into firey zeal in the next chapter.
‘What are you trying to prove, Ephraim?’ Jacob took another bite of his fishcake.
‘That Truth is the Way.’
‘That will carry you through,’ the old uncle airily dismissed the subject. ‘How is little Frieda? And the pretty Mrs Epstein.’
Ephraim told him about the baby due in autumn, and then plunged into his turmoil. ‘I can’t be a physician. But I cannot stay on as a silenced teacher.’
‘The Jews don’t like you because of your Jesus. And the Christians don’t like you because of your truth.’ Jacob laughed gently. ‘Do you ever think of keeping quiet?’
But we know by now that Ephraim cannot keep from acting on his truths. In Chapter 29, Professor Epstein, medical practice is impossible for the still-grieving physician. He has lasted one successful year as a teacher of Hebrew and scripture at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio. Because of his outspokenness he now must invent himself once again… but as what, where?
‘How can I trust myself? How can I know who may die at these hands.’
‘Ephraim,’ Helena murmured, trying to banish his thought with soothing.
‘I am cursed, cursed. God has punished me. I cannot heal, I kill.’
‘It was not you! It was Mr Maxwell’s mistake.’
‘But my hand wrote the scrip!’ Ephraim roared as stood up, making the chair fall over, and he left the room.
In Chapter 28, God Forsaken, Ephraim shakily emerges from grief over the death of his four-year-old son. Instead of quinine, the chemist had accidentally used morphine in medicine for the ill child. Ephraim blames himself. He descends into black depression. Of course I had to recreate his mental breakdown using my imagination. In his own words Ephraim Epstein says, ‘It [his son’s death] came near to breaking my heart and ending my life. I could not practise medicine any more.’ This abstinence was to last nine years. Meanwhile he has to find a way to support his wife and remaining child, baby Frieda.
Ephraim bent and kissed his son on the cheek, in tenderness, and to check his temperature. The quinine would soon provoke the sweat. ‘I will sit by him,’ Ephraim said to Helena. ‘You go and sleep. Everything will be all right now.’
Early birdsong woke Ephraim. Good, the child had slept through. But the sweat should have begun. He reached for the boy — and died. At that moment his heart and soul evaporated. His beautiful son, his William, lay with his eyes staring wide open, his face fixed in death.
In Chapter 27, The Darkness, Ephraim and Helena’s first child dies aged four. Investigation reveals that the death was caused by the misfilling of Ephraim’s own prescription. Instead of quinine, widely used at the time to reduce fever, the chemist had used morphine. Ephraim blames himself and withdraws into grief, hardly mourning the death of their second child, of convulsions, in the same year.
Suddenly among the faces and figures of passengers descending from the train, Ephraim pushed through the crowd to embrace his daughter, thrilled at how she had grown into full and beautiful womanhood. His Sarah was small and gracefully built, her hair swept up in a mop of curls framing her forehead, long locks at the nape. A frivolous hat perched atop her coiffure to match her full-skirted maroon travelling costume.
‘Papa! You look just the same,’ she pulled back to take in his top hat, waistcoat, trim dark beard. ‘Not like a cowboy at all!’
At last Ephraim and his only child reunite. At last he can have a family life, a thriving medical practice, a home in a bustling, civilised city. As Chapter 22, Home Sweet Home, continues… will Sarah prove the doting docile daughter he imagines? Or will she take after her difficult, stubborn mother?
Once again, Ephraim arrived in a new city to start a new life and this time it was an easy, comfortable beginning. Cincinnati, the lively, pleasant city along the banks of the Ohio River, greeted him with open arms, starting with a big bear hug from Uncle Jacob. ‘Look around, look around! They call this city the Queen of the West. What do you think?’
Out of the dubious, raw wild west of Kansas, lured by his will o’ the wisp Uncle, Ephraim finds sophisticated life in Cincinnati, a city already a hundred years old. In Home Sweet Home, Chapter 22, he opens a medical practice, attends clinics at the University hospital… all he lacks is his daughter. And perhaps a wife?
Finally, the awful truth was that along with the earnest and civic-minded the gateway to the West drew hustlers, con men, failures, cheats and criminals. Living near the center of Leavenworth Dr Epstein was called out to saloons where drink and cards routinely led to fights. A different class of patients began to turn up needing treatment for gun wounds, knife slashes, bloodied faces. They were the dregs of society, worse than any he had encountered in the navy, Turkish ghettoes or New York slums.
It’s Kansas 1868, in Chapter 21, America Regained, but not the Kansas Ephraim hoped for. How can he possibly let his 19-year-old Belarusian daughter join him here?
Ephraim unpacked his crates of medical texts, literature and books of faith, and commissioned a signboard. What finer place to be than Leavenworth, Kansas, the gateway to the West! As promised, there was certainly need for physicians here. He soon met the very best people of the city. Attorneys, bankers, manufacturers and merchants were among these civic-minded citizens, aspiring, sincere, self-made men. He shared their belief in American as the land of opportunity, and caught their enthusiasm for America’s duty to civilize this great continent — its manifest destiny.
Freed by his dear mother’s death to return to America and Christianity, Ephraim leaves behind Europe and his daughter for the second time. Full of optimism, in Chapter 21, America Regained, 1867-69, he sets up medical practice in a booming western town. But before long he encounters the darker side of the great American dream.
… concerts, lectures and dances. Ephraim had looks, intelligence, bright liveliness, he was a linguist, a scholar, physician, he told fascinating tales of America and Turkey… and he was unmarried. Through friends and medical colleagues he was introduced to sisters and daughters whenever he socialized. He met pretty women, and intelligent women, and pretty, intelligent women. But though he laughed, waltzed and conversed, he was not drawn to anyone. He realized he had lived so long as a married man with and without Rachel that he did not know how to fall in love.
Divorced from his cousin-wife, in Chapter 19, Fierce as a Leopard, Light as an Eagle, Ephraim is in Vienna, 1863-66. He’s a physician in the prestigious Vienna General Hospital and stuck back in Europe and Judaism because of the promise to his mother. But this restless man will soon drive himself to yet another drastic life change.
Paxton Publishing is pleased to announce the 9th May 2016 publication of The Extraordinary Dr Epstein.
Previously widely available on Amazon, with Paxton Publishing ISBN 978-0955137037 The Extraordinary Dr Epstein is now also widely available from bookshops. Click here for publisher specifics.