The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 215

   

I smiled at that; however crude his methods, Daniel Rawlings was a good doctor. I wondered once again what had happened to him, and whether I should ever get the chance to meet him. I had the rather sad feeling that I should not; I couldn’t imagine a doctor not returning somehow to claim such beautiful instruments as his, if he was in any condition to do so.

Under the prodding of my curiosity, Jamie had obligingly made inquiries, but with no results. Daniel Rawlings had set out for Virginia—leaving his box of instruments behind—and had promptly vanished into thin air.

Another page, another patient; bleeding, purging, lancing of boils, removal of an infected nail, drawing of an abscessed tooth, cautery of a persistent sore on a woman’s leg . . . Rawlings had found plenty of business in Cross Creek. Had he ever made it as far as River Run, though?

Yes, there it was, a week later and several pages on.

Reached River Run after a dire journey, wind and rain fit to sink a ship, and the road washed away entirely in places, so was obliged to ride cross-country, lashed by hail, mud to the eyebrows. Had set out at dawn with Mr. Cameron’s black servant, who brought a horse for me—did not reach sanctuary ’til well past dark, exhausted and starving. Made welcome by Mr. Cameron, who gave me brandy.

Having gone to the expense of procuring a doctor, Hector Cameron had evidently decided to make the most of the opportunity, and had had Rawlings examine all the slaves and servants, as well as the master of the house himself.

Aged Seventy-three, of middling height, broad-shouldered, but somewhat bowed in Stature, Rawlings had written of Hector, with hands so gnarled by rheumatism as to make the handling of any implement more subtle than a spoon impossible. Otherwise, is well-preserved, very Vigorous in his age. Complains of rising in the night, painful Micturition. I am inclined to suspect a prurient Distemper of the Bladder, rather than Stone or chronic Disease of the inward male parts, as the complaint is recurrent, but not of long standing on any occasion of its evidence—two weeks being the average duration of each attack and accompanied by Burning in the male Organ. A low fever, tenderness upon palpation of the lower abdomen and a Black Urine, smelling strongly, incline me further to this belief.

The household being possessed of a good quantity of dried cranberries, have prescribed a decoction, the inspissated juice to be drunk thrice daily, a cupful at a time. Also recommend infusion of Cleavers, drunk morning and evening, for its cooling Effect, and in case of there being Gravel present in the Bladder, which may aggravate this Condition.

I found myself nodding approvingly. I didn’t always agree with Rawlings, either in terms of diagnosis or treatment, but I thought he was likely spot-on on this occasion. What about Jocasta, though?

There she was, on the next page.

Jocasta Cameron, Sixty-four years in age, tri-gravida, well-nourished and in good Health generally, very youthful in Aspect.

Tri-gravida? I paused for a moment at that matter-of-fact remark. So plain, so stark a term, to stand for the bearing—let alone the loss—of three children. To have raised three children past the dangers of infancy, only to lose them all at once, and in such cruel fashion. The sun was warm, but I felt a chill on my heart, thinking of it.

If it was Brianna? Or little Jemmy? How did a woman bear such loss? I had done it, myself, and still had no idea. It had been a long time, and yet still, now and then, I would wake in the night, feeling a child’s warm weight sleeping on my breast, her breath warm on my neck. My hand rose and touched my shoulder, curved as though the child’s head lay there.

I supposed that it might be easier to have lost a daughter at birth, without the years of acquaintance that would leave ragged holes in the fabric of daily life. And yet I knew Faith to the last atom of her being; there was a hole in my heart that fit her shape exactly. Perhaps it was that that had been a natural death, at least; it gave me the feeling that she was still with me in some way, was taken care of, and not alone. But to have children slain in blood, butchered in war?

So many things could happen to children in this time. I returned to my persual of her case history with a troubled mind.

No sign of organic Illness, nor external Damage to the Eyes. The White of the Eye is clear, the lashes free of any Matter, no Tumor visible. The Pupils respond normally to a Light passed before them, and to shading of the Light. A candle held close to one side illuminates the vitreous Humor of the Eye, but shows no Defect therein. I note a slight Clouding, indicating incipient Cataract in the lens of the right eye, but this is insufficient to explain the gradual loss of Sight.

“Hum,” I said aloud. Both Rawlings’ observations and his conclusions matched mine. He briefly noted the length of time over which sight had failed—roughly two years—and the process of its failure—nothing abrupt, but a gradual shrinking of the field of vision.

I thought it likely had taken longer; sometimes the loss was so gradual that people didn’t notice the tiny decrements at all, until the sight was seriously threatened.

. . . bits of the vision whittled away like cheese parings. Even the small remnant of sight remaining is of use only in dim light, as patient exhibits great irritation and pain when the eye is exposed to strong sunlight.

I have seen this condition twice before, always in persons of some age, though not so far advanced. Gave it as my opinion that sight would soon be completely obliterated, with no amelioration possible. Fortunately, Mr. Cameron has a black servant capable of reading, whom he has given to his wife to accompany her and warn her of obstacles, likewise to read to her and apprise her of her surroundings.

It had gone further than that now; the light had gone, and Jocasta was entirely blind. So, a progressive condition—that didn’t tell me much, most of them were. When had Rawlings seen her?

It could be any number of conditions—macular degeneration, tumor of the optic nerve, parasitic damage, retinitis pigmentosa, temporal arteritis—probably not retinal detachment, that would have happened abruptly—but my own preliminary suspicion was of glaucoma. I remembered Phaedre, Jocasta’s body servant, wringing out cloths in cold tea, observing that her mistress was suffering from headache “again,” in a tone of voice that suggested this was a frequent occurrence—and Duncan asking me to make up a lavender pillow, to ease his wife’s “megrims.”

The headaches might have nothing to do with Jocasta’s eyesight, though—and I had not inquired at the time as to the nature of the headaches; they might be simple tension headaches or migraines, rather than the pressure-band type that might—or might not—attend glaucoma. Arteritis would cause frequent headache, too, after all. The frustrating thing about it was that glaucoma by itself had absolutely no predictable symptoms—save eventual blindness. It was caused by a failure of proper drainage of the fluid inside the eyeball, so that pressure inside the eye increased to the point of damage, with no warning at all to the patient or her physician. But other kinds of blindness were largely symptomless as well . . .

I was still contemplating the possibilities, when I became aware that Rawlings had continued his notes onto the back of the page—in Latin.

I blinked at that, a little surprised. I could tell that he had written it as a continuation of the earlier passage; quill-writing shows a characteristic darkening and fading of words, as the ink is renewed with each dip of the pen, and the shading of each passage tended to be different, as different inks were used. No, this had been written at the same time as the passage on the preceding page.

But why drop suddenly into Latin? Rawlings knew some Latin, plainly—which argued some degree of formal education, even if not formal medical education—but he didn’t normally use it in his clinical notes, beyond the occasional word or phrase required for the formal description of some condition. Here was a page and a half of Latin, though, and written in scrupulous letters, smaller than his usual writing, as though he had thought carefully about the contents of the passage—or perhaps as though he felt secretive about it, as the Latin itself seemed to argue.

I flipped back through the casebook, checking to verify my impression. No, he had written in Latin here and there—but not often, and always as he did here; as the continuation of a passage begun in English. How odd. I turned back to the passage concerning River Run and began to try to puzzle it out.

Within a sentence or two, I abandoned the effort and went to find Jamie. He was in his own study, across the hall, writing letters. Or not.

The inkstand—made of a small gourd with a cork to keep the ink from drying—stood at hand, freshly filled; I could smell the woody reek of oak galls brewed with iron filings. A new turkey quill lay on the desk, trimmed to a point of such sharpness that it looked more suitable for stabbing than writing, and a fresh sheet of paper lay on the blotter, three words black and lonely at its head. It took no more than a glance at his face to know what they said.

My dear Sister.

He looked up at me, smiled wryly, and shrugged.

“What shall I say?”

“I don’t know.” At sight of him, I had shut the casebook, clasping it under one arm. I came in and stood behind him, laying a hand on his shoulder. I squeezed gently, and he laid his own hand over mine for a moment, then reached to pick up the quill.

“I canna go on saying that I’m sorry.” He rolled the quill slowly to and fro between his thumb and middle finger. “I’ve said it in each letter. If she was disposed to forgive me . . .”

If she was, Jenny would have replied by now to at least one of the letters that he sent faithfully to Lallybroch each month.

“Ian’s forgiven you. And the children.” Missives from Jamie’s brother-in-law arrived sporadically—but they did come, along with occasional notes from his namesake, Young Jamie, and now and then a line from Maggie, Kitty, Michael, or Janet. But the silence from Jenny was so deafening as to drown out all other communications.

“Aye, it would be worse if . . .” he trailed off, staring at the blank paper. In fact, nothing could be worse than this estrangement. Jenny was closer to him, more important to him, than anyone in the world—with the possible exception of myself.

I shared his bed, his life, his love, his thoughts. She had shared his heart and soul since the day he was born—until the day when he had lost her youngest son. Or so she plainly saw it.

It pained me to see him go on carrying the guilt of Ian’s disappearance—and I felt some small resentment toward Jenny. I understood the depth of her loss, and sympathized with her grief, but still, Ian wasn’t dead—so far as we knew. She alone could absolve Jamie, and surely she must know it.

I pulled up a stool and sat down by him, laying the book aside. A small stack of papers lay to one side, covered with his labored writing. It cost him dearly to write, wrong-handed, and that hand crippled—and yet he wrote stubbornly, almost every evening, recording the small events of the day. Visitors to the Ridge, the health of the animals, progress in building, new settlers, news from the Eastern counties . . . He wrote it down, one word at a time, to be sent off when some visitor arrived who would take the accumulated pages away, on the first stage of their precarious journey to Scotland. All the letters might not arrive at their destination, but some would. Likewise, most letters from Scotland would reach us, too—if they were sent.

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