Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 71

   

“There is, and they’re mine.” This seemed a trifle ungracious—though I certainly thought his own attitude rather brusque—and I softened the remark a little. “What is it that you need? I imagine I can spare a little—”

“Yours?” He glanced from the chest—very clearly an expensive professional bit of furniture—to me, and his brows rose. “What are you doing with a thing like that?”

Several possible replies flitted through my head, but I’d recovered from the surprise of seeing him sufficiently as not to make any of them. I settled for a neutral “May I ask who you are, sir?”

“Oh.” Mildly flustered, he bowed to me. “I beg pardon. Captain Jared Leckie, your servant, ma’am. I am a surgeon with the Second New Jersey.”

He eyed me consideringly, clearly wondering who the devil I was. I was wearing a canvas apron with capacious pockets over my gown, these pockets presently stuffed with all manner of small instruments, dressings, bottles and jars of ointments and liquids. I’d also taken off my broad-brimmed hat when I came into the tent and, as usual, was not wearing a cap. I had bound up my hair, but it had come loose and was coiling damply round my ears. He obviously suspected me of being a laundress, come to collect soiled linen—or possibly something worse.

“I am Mrs. Fraser,” I said, drawing myself up with what I hoped was a gracious nod. “Er . . . Mrs. General Fraser, that is,” I added, seeing that he appeared unimpressed.

His eyebrows shot up, and he looked me openly up and down, his eyes lingering on the top pockets of my apron, these featuring an unwieldy rolled dressing in the act of coming unrolled and trailing down my front and a jar of asafoetida, whose cork was loose, thus allowing the reek of it to waft gently above the other notable smells of the camp. It was known commonly as “devil’s dung,” and for good reason. I pulled the jar out and pushed the cork in more securely. This gesture seemed somehow to reassure him.

“Oh! The general is a physician, I perceive,” he said.

“No,” I said, beginning to see that I should have uphill work with Captain Leckie, who appeared young and not overbright. “My husband is a soldier. I am a physician.”

He stared at me as though I’d told him I was a prostitute. Then he made the mistake of assuming that I was joking and laughed heartily.

At this point, one of my patients, a young mother whose one-year-old son had an ear infection, poked her neatly capped head hesitantly into the tent. Her little boy was in her arms, howling and red-faced.

“Oh, dear,” I said. “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting, Mrs. Wilkins. Do bring him in; I’ll get the bark for him directly.”

Captain Leckie frowned at Mrs. Wilkins and beckoned her closer. She looked nervously at me, but allowed him to lean down and look at little Peter.

“He has a difficult tooth,” Leckie said, rather accusingly, after running a large, unwashed thumb through Peter’s drooling mouth. “He ought to have the gum slit, to let the tooth come through.” He began to fumble in his pocket, where he doubtless had a highly insanitary scalpel or lancet.

“He is teething,” I agreed, shaking out a quantity of crumbled willow bark into my mortar. “But he also has an ear infection, and the tooth will come through of its own accord within the next twenty-four hours.”

He rounded on me, indignant and astonished.

“Are you contradicting me?”

“Well, yes,” I said, rather mildly. “You’re wrong. You want to have a good look in his left ear. It’s—”

“I, madam, am a diplomate of the Medical College of Philadelphia!”

“I congratulate you,” I said, beginning to be provoked. “You’re still wrong.” Having thus rendered him momentarily speechless, I finished grinding the bark into powder and poured it into a square of gauze, which I folded into a neat packet and handed to Mrs. Wilkins, with instructions as to the brewing of the infusion and how to administer it, as well as how to apply an onion poultice.

She took the packet as though it might explode and, with a hasty glance at Captain Leckie, fled, little Peter’s howls receding like a siren in the distance.

I drew a deep breath.

“Now,” I said, as pleasantly as possible. “If you’re in need of simples, Dr. Leckie, I have a good supply. I can—”

He had drawn himself up like a crane eyeing a frog, beady-eyed and hostile.

“Your servant, ma’am,” he said curtly, and stalked past me.

I rolled my eyes up toward the canvas overhead. There was a small gecko-like creature clinging to the cloth, who viewed me with no particular emotion.

“How to win friends and influence people,” I remarked to it. “Take note.” Then I pushed the tent flap back and beckoned for the next patient to come in.

I HAD TO hurry in order to make my rendezvous with Jamie, who was just about to begin his review when I dashed up, twisting my hair into a mass and pinning it hastily under my broad-brimmed hat. It was a terribly hot day; being in the open sun for only a few minutes had made my nose and cheeks tingle warningly.

Jamie bowed gravely to me and began his advance along the line of men drawn up for review, greeting men, saluting officers, asking questions, giving his aide-de-camp notes of things to be done.

He had Lieutenant Schnell with him as aide-de-camp—a nice German boy from Philadelphia, perhaps nineteen—and a stout gentleman I didn’t know but assumed from his uniform to be the captain in charge of whatever companies we were inspecting. I followed them, smiling at the men as I passed, while looking them over sharpish for any overt signs of illness, injury, or disability—I was sure that Jamie could spot excessive drunkenness without my expert opinion.

There were three hundred men, he’d told me, and most of them were quite all right. I kept walking and nodding, but wasn’t above beginning to fantasize some dangerous circumstance in which I found Captain Leckie writhing in pain, which I would graciously allay, causing him to grovel and apologize for his objectionable attitude. I was trying to choose between the prospect of a musket ball embedded in his buttock, testicular torsion, and something temporarily but mortifyingly disfiguring, like Bell’s palsy, when my eye caught a glimpse of something odd in the lineup.

The man in front of me was standing bolt upright, musket at port arms, eyes fixed straight ahead. This was perfectly correct—but no other man in the line was doing it. Militiamen were more than capable, but they generally saw no point in military punctilio. I glanced at the rigid soldier, passed by—then glanced back.

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” I exclaimed, and only sheer chance kept Jamie from hearing me, he being distracted by the sudden arrival of a messenger.

I took two hasty steps back, bent, and peered under the brim of the dusty slouch hat. The face beneath was set in fierce lines, with a darkly ominous glower—and was completely familiar to me.

“Bloody effing hell,” I whispered, seizing him by the sleeve. “What are you doing here?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he whispered back, not moving a muscle of face or body. “Do walk on, my dear.”

Such was my astonishment, I might actually have done it, had my attention not been drawn by a small figure skulking about behind the line, trying to avoid notice by crouching behind a wagon wheel.

“Germain!” I said, and Jamie whirled about, eyes wide.

Germain stiffened for an instant and then turned to flee, but too late; Lieutenant Schnell, living up to his name, sprang through the line and grabbed Germain by the arm.

“Is he yours, sir?” he asked, glancing curiously from Jamie to Germain and back.

“He is,” Jamie said, with a tone that had turned many a man’s blood to water. “What the devil—”

“I’m an orderly!” Germain said proudly, trying to detach himself from Lieutenant Schnell’s grip. “I’m supposed to be here!”

“No, you’re not,” his grandfather assured him. “And what do ye mean, an orderly? Whose orderly?”

Germain at once glanced in John’s direction, then, realizing his mistake, jerked his eyes back, but it was too late. Jamie reached John in a single stride and ripped the hat off his head.

The face was identifiable as that of Lord John Grey, but only by someone who knew him well. He wore a black felt patch over one eye, and the other was all but obscured by dirt and bruises. He’d cut his luxuriant blond hair to roughly an inch in length and appeared to have rubbed dirt into it.

With considerable aplomb, he scratched his head and handed Jamie his musket.

“I surrender to you, sir,” he said, in a clear voice. “To you, personally. So does my orderly,” he added, putting a hand on Germain’s shoulder. Lieutenant Schnell, quite flabbergasted, let go of Germain as though he were red-hot.

“I surrender, sir,” Germain said solemnly, and saluted.

I’d never seen Jamie at a complete loss for words, and didn’t now, but it was a near thing. He inhaled strongly through his nose, then turned to Lieutenant Schnell.

“Escort the prisoners to Captain McCorkle, Lieutenant.”

“Er . . .” I said apologetically. A hard blue eye swiveled in my direction, brow raised.

“He’s injured,” I said, as mildly as I could, with a brief gesture in John’s direction. Jamie’s lips compressed for an instant, but he nodded.

“Take the prisoners—and Mrs. Fraser”—I daresay it was merely sensitivity on my part that perceived a certain emphasis on “Mrs. Fraser”—“to my tent, Lieutenant.”

With scarcely a breath, he turned on John.

“I accept your surrender, Colonel,” he said, with icy politeness. “And your parole. I will attend you later.”

And, with that, he turned his back on the three of us, in what could only be described as a marked manner.

“WHAT ON EARTH happened to your eye?” I demanded, peering at it. I had John on the cot in my small medical tent, the flap open to admit as much light as possible. The eye was swollen half shut and surrounded by a sticky black ring where the felt patch had been peeled away, the underlying flesh a lurid palette of green, purple, and ghastly yellow. The eye itself was red as a flannel petticoat and, from the irritated state of the eyelids, had been watering more or less constantly for some time.

“Your husband punched me when I told him I’d bedded you,” he replied, with complete composure. “I do hope he didn’t take any similarly violent actions upon being reunited with you?”

Had I been capable of a convincing Scottish noise, I might have resorted to one. As it was, I merely glared at him.

“I decline absolutely to discuss my husband with you,” I said. “Lie down, blast you.”

He eased himself back on the cot, wincing.

“He said he hit you twice,” I remarked, watching this. “Where was the second one?”

“In the liver.” He gingerly touched his lower abdomen. I pulled up his shirt and inspected the damage, which amounted to further spectacular bruising around the lower ribs, with blue streaks draining down toward the ilial crest, but little more.

“That’s not where your liver is,” I informed him. “It’s on the other side.”

“Oh.” He looked blank. “Really? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am,” I assured him. “I’m a doctor. Let me look at your eye.”

I didn’t wait for permission, but he didn’t resist, lying back and staring up at the canvas roof while I spread the eyelids as far as possible. The sclera and conjunctiva were badly inflamed, and even the dim light made the eye water profusely. I held up two fingers.

“Two,” he said, before I could ask. “And before you start ordering me to look to and fro and up and down . . . I can’t. I can see out of it—though it’s a bit blurry, and I see everything doubled, which is very disagreeable—but I can’t move it at all. Dr. Hunter opined that some muscle or other was trapped by some sort of bone. He didn’t feel competent to deal with it.”

“I’m flattered that you think I might be.”

“I have the fullest confidence in your abilities, Dr. Fraser,” he said politely. “Besides, have I any choice?”

“No. Keep quite still, there . . . Germain!” I had caught sight of a telltale flutter of pink calico from the corner of my eye, and the runaway came sidling in, looking vaguely guilty.

“Don’t tell me what you have in your shirt,” I said, noting a suspicious bulge or two. “I don’t want to be an accessory to crime. No, wait—is it alive?”

Germain prodded the bulge, as though not quite sure, but it didn’t move, and he shook his head. “No, Grand-mère.”

“Good. Come here and hold this, will you?”

I handed him my pocket looking glass and, adjusting the tent flap so that a ray of light shone in, then adjusted Germain’s hand so that the reflected light shone directly from the mirror into the affected eye. John yelped slightly when the light struck his eye, but obediently clutched the sides of the cot and didn’t move, though his eye watered terribly. All the better; it would wash out bacteria and perhaps make it easier to move the eyeball.

Denny was most likely right, I thought, selecting my smallest cautery iron and slipping it gently under the lower lid. It was the best thing I could find for the job, being flat, smooth, and spade-shaped. I couldn’t move the globe of the eyeball upward at all; even slight pressure made him go white. I could move it slightly from side to side, and given the sensitivity of John’s face just below the eye, I began to form a mental picture of the damage. It was almost certainly what was called a “blowout” fracture, which had cracked the delicate bone of the orbital floor and forced a displaced bit of it—along with part of the inferior rectus muscle—down into the maxillary sinus. The edge of the muscle was caught in the crack, thus immobilizing the eyeball.

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