Chapter Fifty-Five: Valise

“Get out!” I shouted at her, pointing to the door with my left hand.

The sister stared back at me, shocked. She was not moving.

“Evelyn, really.” She spoke in a calm and soothing tone, evenly. I hated her even more for thinking I could be placated.

“You know nothing of me or my life or what it is to love another human being, to bear the pain and the shame of it.” Her chipper mask slowly fell, replaced by hate.

“You are a sinner!” she hissed.

“So are you! You pretend to be filled with God’s love, pretend to care for mankind, but instead you, like the others, sit in judgement, consumed with pride in the belief that you are closer to God than everyone else. You don’t even realize that you are condemned to hell just like the rest of us.”

Sister Martha stared back, wide eyed. Apparently no one had dared to speak to her in this way before. It felt good to have power again, to be able to command someone else to feel smaller.

“You deserve to suffer. God will hear your blasphemy.”

“Get out,” I muttered through my teeth. I lunged at her at which point she stood. I tried to grab at her arm, intending to strangle her, having no doubt that I could and would do it, but also forgetting that my hand was only marginally functional. She slipped through my meager grip.

She paused at the doorway. “You are still a sinner…”

I stepped toward her menacingly before she could say another word. She turned and fled, leaving the door open, her quick steps echoing down the corridor.

My hands shaking, I tore off the lining at the back of the truck where I had hidden money before setting out on my journey to the Crimea.

I pulled out my worn brown leather valise with silver buckles and stared at the contents of my trunk. I would leave the majority behind. I needed a clean break. Arranging for my trunk to be moved given the current circumstances would create too much baggage. I wanted to leave this place and all of its suffering behind.

I selected a change of clothing, a brown travel dress similar to the one I was now wearing, and shoved it inside. I would only bring the corset and other undergarments I had on my person and the shoes on my feet. I dug out my miniature of William and the one of my parents. I had no jewelry with me, save a simple garnet and pearl necklace with matching earrings which were impossible to put on without assistance now and my wedding ring. I slipped these into a pocket. Hairbrush. Hair pins. Bonnet. Gloves. A handkerchief.

A book. I stared at my books. I had about twenty stashed away but had not had time to read a single one. No. I could use the time to think instead. I closed the trunk and heard the click.

There was nothing else left that I cared anything about.

Picking up my cloak and the valise, I left the room, the hospital, and Balaklava behind.

I booked passage on the Taurus, a military transport. It mattered not how much I was willing to pay, I was given berth below deck with other, more unfortunate women trapped in a dark hell that smelled of vomit and urine. There was a growing sense all around that the war would soon be over and these women who had stayed for so long were finally moving on. Some had small children, born in the camps. All day and all night, I could hear the cries and retching in my tiny cabin.

The stench, the rolling of the sea, the itching from the bites of the bedbugs and lice that infested the rickety cot, the loneliness and anxiety of my situation became a roiling in my own belly and I was left weak and dehydrated at the end of the three day voyage.

“Miss?” A knock came at the door. I startled, now awake. “Miss! We have arrived at port!”

I sat up, my head spinning. I struggled to remember where I was. Then the horror and shame came flooding back.

The deck hand had to assist me to the shore as I could barely stand and I was blinded terribly by the bright sunlight that had not touched my eyes for so long down below.

I clutched the valise close to my side and looked around, squinting. The white hospital loomed imposingly upon the cliff above.

Scutari.

I was almost home, with home being a return to the civilized world, a world not at war. A world with tea parties and millinery shops, a world with less blood. My world was anywhere but here, a wide open place full of hope.

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