"Is there anywhere else I might apply?"
The avuncular look faded. "There are hospitals run by women in France—but not under our jurisdiction. They're under the auspices of the French Red Cross." He sniffed with disdain. "There's also a convalescent hospital in London staffed by women, and there are female doctors treating refugees in Serbia, but they do not have official support, and there is rampant disease and contagion there. Those women serve at their own risk and expense, and with the understanding that they cannot expect official aid from the king's government."
Eleanor sat forward, hopefully. "Would they—"
He thumped his fist on the table. "Young woman, as your father's friend I beg you to go home and stop this nonsense! This is not the kind of life for a well-bred woman." She refused to wilt under his icy glare. She held his gaze boldly until he was the one to sigh and look away. "Do you truly wish to embarrass your parents?"
"I hope to make them proud of me."
She remembered how her mother had cried at the graduation ceremony, sure her daughter had ruined her future with an advanced education and a medical degree. In the eight months since that day, she hadn't stopped looking at Eleanor with a mixture of bafflement and disappointment. It was much like Sir William's terribly pained expression now. Her father had been an army doctor once, and she'd thought—hoped—he'd understand why she wanted this, why she felt called to serve as he had. She recalled his flat frown and crisp dismissal the single time that she'd broached the subject.
"I daresay your father would like to continue his career and eventually retire without anything marring his reputation in that community—both the medical one and the social one," Sir William said. "What you do next will reflect upon him, Miss Atherton, and upon your future husband. A good man might think twice before proposing to...a woman with such experience."
He pushed her letter across the desk with the tip of one finger and rose from his chair. He took out his watch and glanced at it pointedly.
The interview was over.
There was nothing to do but pick up the letter, fold it, and put it in her pocketbook. Frustration rose, and Eleanor swallowed, tasting bitterness on her tongue. If Sir William knew how far she'd come, all she'd done to become a doctor, he'd not doubt her determination.
She'd dreamed of being a doctor her whole life. She'd watched her father work, and she'd read every medical book in his study. At medical school she'd worked harder than any other student in her class because she wanted to be taken seriously, though excelling had led to jealousy and scorn from her male classmates, not admiration. She'd been bullied, too, like the rest of the women in her class, but she'd endured it, learned to concentrate with all her might on her studies, on the prize of a medical career, and ignore the taunts.
She lifted her eyes to Sir William, a renewed plea on her lips, but he'd already turned away, was crossing the room to open the door for her. She followed, her spine stiff, her expression placid. She'd also learned that at medical school, to not let disappointment or frustration show, no matter how those emotions raged in her breast. It was weakness, and it made one easy prey, a victim—or a casualty. Find another way. It had become her motto, her creed, to go around the obstacles in her path.
Find another way.
Sir William paused with his hand on the latch. "Have you considered the possibility of applying to serve as a nurse or a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment?" he asked. "Much more ladylike pursuits."
Eleanor's simmering frustration came to a boil. She clenched the handle of her pocketbook so tightly that she heard the bamboo crack. A foul curse word—also learned at medical school—rose to the tip of her tongue. She clamped it behind her teeth just in time.
Instead she raised her chin and looked along the length of her nose at the bureaucrat. She was taller by half a head, and he noted that, colored, and subtly rose on his toes.
"I am not a nurse, Sir William, or a volunteer."
She leaned forward, her nose inches from his, her eyes narrowed. "I am a doctor."