“Evie, cover your mouth!” Madge looked incredulous. “You don’t want the devil sneaking in, do you?”
My breakfast of cold porridge sat untouched.
“May I?” she asked, gesturing to my bowl. When I did not immediately answer, she continued staring at me, expectantly.
My mind was elsewhere. Had he felt anything at all?
“Evelyn!” she said sharply.
“Hmmmmm?” I looked across at her.
Somewhat embarrassed, she sheepishly whispered, “May I have your leftovers?”
“Oh, yes, Madge!” I shoved the bowl across to her.”Sorry!”
She watched me thoughtfully as she spooned the cold muck into her mouth, but she asked no other questions.
I stared down into my tea as I rubbed again at the painful burn on my chest. Why didn’t it work on him? The water must have diluted the oil of vitriol too much. I had been stupid to think I could stop him. Who was I, after all? I knew the laundress used it as a bleach for cleaning linens and she managed to not burn holes in the sheets. The chemist here used it for making certain drug compounds and I had never heard of him injuring himself. I even had read years ago how it was used to make ether, not that ether was used here. It was too dangerous as an anesthetic.
I rose to get to work.
“Are you coming?” I asked Madge.
“Not quite yet. Let me finish this.” She motioned to the porridge with her spoon.
I nodded and was about to turn to leave. At that moment, a balding orderly with a crooked nose approached me and breathlessly whispered,”Dr. Jenkins is ill. He is asking for you.”
I could not disguise the shock on my face.
“Evie, what is wrong?” Madge looked at me, concerned.
What was his game? Some satisfaction arose in me. He was not well. But did I want to see him? Curiosity drew me forward. I had to know.
“I will be at the dispensary soon,” I said to Madge, ignoring her pointed earlier question. I turned to the orderly, drawing the shawl tight around my shoulders. “Take me to him.”
I followed the orderly through the wards. I did not want to make it seem that I knew the way.
“Water?” Came the rasped supplication from the corner again. He sounded even more desperate. I touched the orderly on the arm, to let him know I was stopping. I looked at the man as I poured him water from a nearby pitcher. He was delirious with fever. Sweat matted his blond hair to his youthful face. He tried to sit up but was too weak to get up very far. I helped hold his head up as he drank hungrily, water pouring from his chin onto his soiled uniform. Finally, he appeared sated, and he fell back onto the damp pillow with his eyes closed.
When I looked up, the orderly was eyeing me suspiciously. Why? Had that given me away?
“Someone would have taken care of that,” he said.
“No they would not.” I did not tell him that I knew this fellow had been desperate for water since last night.
He looked at me, irritated, as if I had accused him personally of ignoring the wellbeing of a patient. Technically, he had to have passed this way at least three times already. Surely this was not the first time the soldier had cried out. So in a way, I was. And he knew it.
“He is not going to live, is he?” I asked as we continued on our way.
“No,” he said without looking back at me. And there it was. Once slated for death, resources were focused on those that could be saved.
We rounded the corner and the pace slowed as he tried to remember which was Dr. Jenkins’ room. Fourth door on the right.
He stopped at the door and rapped quickly with his knuckles.
“Enter!” I heard from inside. The orderly turned the knob and ushered me inside. I looked around as if seeing it for the first time. I blinked, allowing my eyes to adjust to the brightness of the daylight that streamed through the frosted window after the darkness of the corridor outside.
He was laying in the bed, the woolen blanket pulled up about his neck.
The orderly nodded and bowed out.
We were left alone. Together. I waited.
We stared at each other. Silent.
“Come see your handiwork.”
I did not move. I was frozen to the spot. I did not want to touch him.
“I do not know what you are talking about, sir. I have done nothing to you. Perhaps you have experienced the wrath of God.”
He laughed, dryly. “You are not God.” He peered at me, closer. “Where is your amulet?” He sounded sarcastic.
My breath caught and I flushed.
So he knew. Fine.
He threw back the blanket. He was naked. While his hands were red and raw, his genitals were worse. The skin had sloughed off in places. I winced. But I felt no remorse.
“There is no one that I can ask to help with this without compromising myself. Therefore I ask you to help me.”
“No.” I turned to go.
“Please.” I could hear the pain in his voice.
“No.” I opened the door.
“I am sorry, Evelyn. I am sorry for who I am.”
I stopped. That was not really an apology. Still. I had exacted my revenge. The scar tissue would make any arousal painful even after it had healed. Infection may cause death or amputation before then. Likely his days of terrorizing and dominating women were over.
“I will help you.” I closed the door.