The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 240

   

It wasn’t nailed; the lid was heavy, but shifted at once.

“Oh,” Jamie said softly, looking down.

Gold will never tarnish, no matter how damp or dank its surroundings. It will lie at the bottom of the sea for centuries, to emerge one day in some random fisherman’s net, bright as the day it was smelted. It glimmers from a rocky matrix, a siren’s song that has called to men for thousands of years.

The ingots lay in a shallow layer over the bottom of the coffin. Enough to fill two small chests, each chest heavy enough to require two men—or a man and a strong woman—to carry it. Each ingot stamped with a fleur-de-lis. One third of the Frenchman’s gold.

I blinked at the shimmer, and looked aside, my eyes blurring with fractured light. It was dark on the floor, but I could still make out the huddled form against the pale marble. “Nosing where he should not.” And what had he seen, Daniel Rawlings, that had made him draw the fleur-de-lis in the margin of his casebook, with that discreet notation, “Aurum”?

Hector Cameron was still alive, then. The mausoleum had not yet been sealed. Perhaps when Dr. Rawlings rose to follow his wandering patient, Hector had led him here unwitting, going down in the night to view his hoard? Perhaps. Neither Hector Cameron nor Daniel Rawlings could say, now, how it had been, or what had happened.

I felt a thickening in my throat, for the man whose bones lay now at my feet, the friend and colleague whose instruments I had inherited, whose shade had stood at my elbow, lending me both courage and comfort, when I laid hands on the sick and sought to heal them.

“Such a waste,” I said softly, looking down.

Jamie lowered the coffin lid, gently, as though the coffin held an occupant whose rest had been disturbed.

Outside, Jocasta stood still on the path. She had an arm round Phaedre, who had stopped whimpering, but it was not clear which of them was supporting the other. Jocasta must know now from the noise where we were, but she faced the river still, eyes fixed, unblinking in the torchlight.

I cleared my throat, hugging the shawl tighter with my free hand.

“What shall we do, then?” I asked Jamie.

He turned and looked back into the tomb for a moment, then shrugged a little.

“We’ll leave the Lieutenant to Hector, as we planned. As for the doctor . . .” He drew breath slowly, troubled gaze fixed on the slender bones that lay in a graceful fan, pale and still in the light. A surgeon’s hand—once.

“I think,” he said, “we will take him home with us—to the Ridge. Let him lie among friends.”

He brushed past the two women without acknowledgment or pardon, and went to fetch Lieutenant Wolff.

105

A THRUSH’S DREAM

Fraser’s Ridge

May, 1772

THE NIGHT AIR WAS COOL and fresh. So early in the year, the bloodthirsty flies and mosquitoes hadn’t started yet; only random moths came in through the open window now and then, to flutter round the smoored hearth like bits of burning paper, brushing past their outflung limbs in brief caress.

She lay as she had fallen, half on top of him, heart thumping loud and slow in her ears. From here, she could see out through the window; the jagged black line of trees on the far side of the dooryard, and beyond them a section of sky, lit with stars, so near and bright that it should be possible to step out among them and walk from one to another, higher and higher, to the hook of the crescent moon.

“You’re not mad at me?” he whispered. He spoke more easily now, but lying with her ear on his chest, she could hear the faint catch in his voice, the point where he forced air hard through his scarred throat to form the words.

“No.” His hand was on her hair, stroking. “I didn’t ever tell you not to read it.”

His fingers touched her shoulder, lightly, and her toes curled with pleasure at the feeling. Did she mind? No. She supposed she ought to feel exposed in some way, the privacy of her thoughts and dreams laid bare to him—but she trusted him with them. He would never use those things against her.

Besides, once set down on paper, the dreams became a separate thing from her, herself. Much like the drawings that she made; a reflection of one facet of her mind, a brief glimpse of something once seen, once thought, once felt—but not the same thing as the mind or heart that made them. Not quite.

“Fair’s fair, though.” Her chin rested in the hollow of his shoulder. He smelled good, bitter and musky with the scent of satisfied desire. “Tell me one of your dreams, then.”

A laugh vibrated through his chest, nearly soundless, but she felt it.

“Only one?”

“Yes, but it has to be an important one. Not the flying ones, or the ones where you’re being chased by a monster, or the ones where you go to school without your clothes on. Not the ones that everybody has—one that only you have.”

One of her hands was on his chest, scratching gently to make the dark curly hairs twitch and rise. The other was under the pillow; if she moved her fingers slightly, she could feel the smooth little shape of the ancient wifie, as he called it. She could imagine her own womb swelling, round and hard. She could feel the clutch and soft spasm in her lower belly; aftershocks of their lovemaking. Would it be this time?

He turned his head on the pillow, thinking. Long lashes lay against his cheek, black as the lines of the trees outside. He turned back then, lifting them, and his eyes were the color of moss, soft and vivid in the shadowed light.

“I could be romantic,” he whispered, and his fingers drifted down her back, so that she felt gooseflesh rise in their wake. “I could say this is my dream—you and me, here alone . . . us and our children.” He turned his head a little, checking the trundle in the corner, but Jemmy was sound asleep, invisible.

“You could,” she echoed, and ducked her head so her forehead pressed against his shoulder. “But that’s a waking dream—not a real dream. You know what I mean.”

“Aye, I do.”

He was quiet for a minute, his hand lying still, broad and warm across the base of her spine.

“Sometimes,” he whispered at last, “sometimes, I dream I am singing, and I wake from it with my throat aching.”

He couldn’t see her face, or the tears that prickled at the corners of her eyes.

“What do you sing?” she whispered back. She heard the shush of the linen pillow as he shook his head.

“No song I’ve ever heard, or know,” he said softly. “But I know I’m singing it for you.”

106

THE SURGEON’S BOOK II

July 27, 1772

“Was called from churning to attend Rosamund Lindsay, who arrived in late afternoon with a severe laceration to the left hand, sustained with an axe while girdling trees. Wound was extensive, having nearly severed the left thumb; laceration extended from base of index finger to two inches above the styloid process of the radius, which was superficially damaged. Injury had been sustained approximately three days prior, treated with rough binding and bacon grease. Extensive sepsis apparent, with suppuration, gross swelling of hand and forearm. Thumb blackened; gangrene apparent; characteristic pungent odor. Subcutaneous red streaks, indicative of blood poisoning, extended from site of injury nearly to antecubital

fossa.

Patient presented with high fever (est. 104 degrees F., by hand), symptoms of dehydration, mild disorientation. Tachycardia evident.

In view of the seriousness of patient’s condition, recommended immediate amputation of limb at elbow. Patient refused to consider this, insisting instead upon application of pigeon poultice, consisting of the split body of a freshly-killed pigeon, applied to wound (patient’s husband had brought pigeon, neck freshly wrung). Removed thumb at base of metacarpal, ligated remains of radial artery (crushed in original injury) and superficialis volae. Debrided and drained wound, applied approximately 1/2 oz. crude penicillin powder (source: rotted casaba rind, batch #23, prep. 15/4/72) topically, followed by application of mashed raw garlic (three cloves), barberry salve—and pigeon poultice, at insistence of husband applied over dressing. Administered fluids by mouth; febrifuge mixture of red centaury, bloodroot, and hops; water ad lib. Injected liquid penicillin mixture (batch # 23), IV, dosage 1/4 oz in suspension in sterile water.

Patient’s condition deteriorated rapidly, with increasing symptoms of disorientation and delirium, high fever. Extensive urticaria appeared on arm and upper torso. Attempted to relieve fever by repeated applications of cold water, to no avail. Patient being incoherent, requested permission to amputate from husband; permission denied on grounds that death appeared imminent, and patient “would not want to be buried in pieces.”

Repeated penicillin injection. Patient lapsed into unconsciousness shortly thereafter, and expired just before dawn.

I DIPPED MY QUILL again, but then hesitated, letting the drops of ink slide off the sharpened point. How much more should I say?

The deeply-ingrained disposition for scientific thoroughness warred with caution. It was important to describe what had happened, as fully as possible. At the same time, I hesitated to put down in writing what might amount to an admission of manslaughter—it wasn’t murder, I assured myself, though my guilty feelings made no such distinctions.

“Feelings aren’t truth,” I murmured. Across the room, Brianna looked up from the bread she was slicing, but I bent my head over the page, and she returned to her whispered conversation with Marsali by the fire. It was no more than mid-afternoon, but dark and rainy outside. I had lit a candle by which to write, but the girls’ hands flickered over the dim table like moths, lighting here and there among the plates and platters.

The truth was that I didn’t think Rosamund Lindsay had died of septicemia. I was fairly sure that she had died of an acute reaction to an unpurified penicillin mixture—of the medicine I gave her, in short. Of course, the truth also was that the blood poisoning would certainly have killed her, left untreated.

The truth also was that I had had no way of knowing what the effects of the penicillin would be—but that was rather the point, wasn’t it? To make sure someone else might know?

I twiddled the quill, rolling it between thumb and forefinger. I had kept a faithful account of my experiments with penicillin—the growing of cultures on media ranging from bread to chewed pawpaw and rotted melon rind, painstaking descriptions of the microscopic and gross identification of the Penicillium molds, the effects of—to this point—very limited applications.

Yes, certainly I must include a description of the effects. The real question, though, was—for whom was I keeping this careful record?

I bit my lip, thinking. If it was only for my own reference, it would be a simple matter; I could simply record the symptoms, timing, and effects, without explicitly noting the cause of death; I was unlikely to forget the circumstances, after all. But if this record were ever to be useful to someone else . . . someone who had no notion of the benefits and dangers of an antibiotic . . .

The ink was drying on the quill. I lowered the point to the page.

Age—44, I wrote slowly. In this day, casebook accounts like this often ended with a pious description of the deceased’s last moments, marked—presumably—by Christian resignation on the part of the holy, repentance by the sinful. Neither attitude had marked the passage of Rosamund Lindsay.

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