Chapter Forty-Nine: The Godless

When we arrived at Balaklava in the early morning, there were dozens of ships jumbled together in the harbor, a thick, low lying fog wrapped its cold arms around the town. With their sails tied down, the ships looked like a giant tangle of toothpicks poking up from a sea of clouds. I stood on the deck, watching, anxious to be on dry land again.

It took a number of hours to secure a driver to take me to the hospital. I hoped that even if they did not need my help, they would allow me to stay the night before I moved on. By then the fog had burned off, leaving the frozen, bare ground exposed. Several men loaded my trunk into the back of a wagon filled with barrels of gunpowder. I was allowed to ride on one of the barrels, which made me quite nervous. I had virtually no experience with gunpowder except to know that lighting it resulted in the most spectacular explosions.

Even from several miles away, I could see the mass of white, conical officer’s tents that speckled the horizon as we drove into camp. There were larger, rectangular tents that served as barracks. The wagon bounced raggedly along the deeply rutted road and my backside ached from coming down on the barrel I was sitting on over and over again. As we entered the encampment the red coated soldiers looked up, some touched their hats, some bowed.

I watched as we passed the fires. The costumes were varied. Some, the Highlanders, wore plaid pants. Some wore ridiculous looking monstrous black furry hats that stood as high as two heads over their own, like wearing a bear cub for decoration.

There were a few women. Most were dressed as vivandieres, women that stayed at the front lines with the soldiers nursing and sometimes fighting alongside them. I thought they looked ridiculous. They were dressed in distinctively male clothing with titillating feminine corsets and short regimental overskirts covering their trouser legs to the knee. Each carried a bidon, or flask, from which they dispensed brandy to the troops. I knew that they were revered by the men. Revered. The British camp followers and officers’ wives were ridiculed and harassed. This I found hard to understand until I tried to negotiate the rough, frozen terrain on foot myself in my own long skirt and petticoats. We should have all been wearing pants.

“Whoa!” The wagon jolted to a halt as the driver, a young man not much older than sixteen, pulled up on the reigns. He hopped down nimbly as a cat, then held out his hands to assist me.

“No thank you.” I waved him away. “I will do it myself.” I grasped the side of the wagon box and threw myself over. I was less than graceful, realizing too late that my legs had fallen asleep from the pressure of the lip of the barrel and then slipped in the mud. I caught myself in time to prevent landing on my backside in the sloppy mess by clinging to the edge of the wagon but not soon enough to prevent the searing pain that tore up my leg from my left ankle as I landed on it. I held back the urge to wince. I could not show weakness or poor judgment this soon after arriving!

I paused a moment to let the acuteness of the pain pass.

We were outside the Castle Hospital, run by the Sisters of Mercy. It was a towering stone edifice that appeared to be in ruins. There were many long huts arranged in rows along the ridge below that were used to house. The report was that the death rate from gangrene was much lower here. I wanted to know why.

The driver unloaded my trunk with the assistance of a soldier standing nearby and deposited it in the entrance hall. I was told to wait while an orderly fetched one of the sisters.

Looking around, the place seemed clean and organized. The floor was spotless despite the mixture of mud and ice just outside the doors. Everyone apparently took care to wipe their feet on the provided mats before tracking anything further.

In short order, one of the sisters arrived and ushered me into a small office. She appeared dour and severe in her habit. After motioning for me to take a seat, she sat down across from me and looked me over head to toe.

“Do you drink wine, Mrs. Aspern?” she finally asked, suspiciously.

“Yes…no…I am sorry? Why do you ask?” I was taken aback by this line of questioning straight away.

She motioned disapprovingly at the stain on my sleeve. “We do not tolerate drunkenness here.” Despite the stain, this was the only wrapper in my possession that was in presentable condition.

“No. It spilled on my arm while I was helping a vomiting patient at Scutari,” I lied without blinking. Alcohol was readily available and one of the few sources of diversion for the nursing staff. I was sure it had already been a problem here as it had been at Scutari.

Her head nodded thoughtfully as she pressed her fingertips into a steeple in front of her. She seemed satisfied. For the moment.

“What exactly do you expect to do here, Mrs. Aspern?

“Make myself useful.” I shrugged. “I learned much at Scutari.”

“Bah! Nurses do nothing at Scutari. They are allowed to do little beyond hold hands and read aloud.”

“That was true for most of Miss Nightingale’s women. But I did not come with them. I volunteered and learned to do most everything. There were several of us.”

She stared at me. “Why did you leave?” she asked pointedly.

“To be closer to the fighting where my presence may be more meaningful. It seemed that most of what we did at Scutari was futile. The men were dead even before they got there, even if they had not yet taken their last breath.”

“I am not sure you will feel service here that much more gratifying.” She stood. I followed suit. “You may stay but you will be required to attend chapel and devotionals with the sisters. Not that you will find God here. He has abandoned this place.”

Chapter Forty-Eight: Stained

“In war time, miss, certain rules no longer apply,” said Frenchy. His mouth was full.

“I’ll drink to that!” Exclaimed the captain. He performed a mock toast with his tankard in the air, laughing. Others joined in with “Hear! Hear!” and slammed their tankards and cups against each other.

We were sitting around the worn table eating what Frenchy, who also served as the cook, referred to as “little bags o’ mystery”. Sausages and potatoes. And wine. Lots of wine.

There were eight crew members, each with their own stereotypical personalities, so much so that I felt I had been kidnapped and taken aboard a pirate ship. Whenever I sailed before, I had only been allowed to come face to face with the “respectable” staff. Men such as this were present, I am sure. They were the work horses, after all. Perhaps they were simply stashed behind the scenes. Or maybe they had been there all along, I had just thought they were invisible?

I had already met the captain and Thomas and Frenchy. There was also Stephen, who was missing all of his teeth. Harold was missing most of his teeth. Warren had most all of his teeth but they were colored an odd brownish black that made one think it might not be long before his teeth also started to go. Albert was heavy set with a thick black beard, everything was a joke to him. And last was Freddie. He looked to be about 95…frail, wrinkled, slow…but he had a tremendous voice that could sing out a haunting sea chantey that reverberated and resonated in depths your very soul.

Between bites, I would have to pause to pick bits of gristle and bone from my teeth. The sausage was not of the best quality and in fact I could not identify the taste and consistency as any recognizable beast of origin, but it was meat. And the wine made everything taste better.

“So you think that sins are no longer sins when war is involved?” I asked Frenchy.

“What I am sayin’ is that none of us have the right to judge. What is a turn on the sack the night before a battle if you are going to die?”

Thomas coughed uncomfortably, causing the candlelight to flicker. Everyone grew silent as seven pairs of eyes looked nervously to me. Frenchy was looking down into his plate. What would the woman say to that?

“I see,” I replied. He was right. People who passed these judgments were not the ones walking the fields of blood, losing life and limb. I nodded to Frenchy, raising my own wooden tankard to his pewter one. I was met with a lopsided smile and a forceful slam into my cup that produced a slosh of my wine which landed on my dark gray sleeve, staining it. Well, I will be remembering this conversation for quite some time, then.

Morality was not the same for everyone. It was affected by parents, friends, religion, society and often evolves. If it could be manipulated, then how could that be used to decide right or wrong? How could it be trusted? I agreed with his point in principle, but there still had to be right and wrong.

The silence was broken by Albert making a crack about Frenchy’s own bags o’ mystery being too salty for human consumption. I assumed this was a reference of a more personal nature. I blushed. The men all laughed.

I excused myself and returned to my cabin. I lay on the straw mattress, fully clothed, and blew out the candle I had taken from the table to light my way. On my back, under the mound of old blankets, I was awake and listening to the creaking of the boat. There were no windows and as such, no visible moonlight. Only pitch black loneliness.

Chapter Forty-Seven: Voyage

I walked down the wharf looking for my ship. There were dozens moored here. The wind blew so cold my teeth were set to chattering. Each new gust took my breath away, I was left gasping every few steps. The Tsar was reported to say that he had three secret weapons on his side: January, February, and March. They had certainly taken their toll.

Much of the British army’s winter uniforms and blankets had sunk with the Prince in November. We had seen frostbite so bad that when the linseed meal poultices were removed on arrival at Scutari, entire toes came with it, chunks of flesh peeled from the bones of the legs and ankles. These men died by the hundreds.

In the distance, moored quite a ways away, were three supply ships. I could make out crates and barrels being tossed overboard. The rumor was that thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables had been allowed to rot in the holds, bound up in interminable beaurocracy while solders were dying from scurvy and starvation.  This was almost as unforgiveable as the hundreds of pairs of boots shipped from England that were too small for anyone but a woman to wear.  It would be laughable except that people were dying from these ludicrous mistakes.

I was leaving the hospital at Scutari, moving to the Castle Hospital at Balaclava. I had no hopes of a “better” life, per se.  I looked to be more useful closer to the lines, where I could make a difference.  Most of the men arriving at Scutari already had their fates decided well before they set foot there.  If they had feet.

“Excuse me!” I called to a sailor. “Can you point me in the direction of the Resolute?” It was a medical supply ship that was on its way to Balaklava and then on to Sevastopol. He squinted at me, sizing me up. Then, wordlessly he pointed south.

I kept walking, doing my best to read the names on the ships. Finally I found it. My heart sank. It hardly looked seaworthy. Paint was peeling, the sails patched.

My trunk had been delivered earlier. Or so I hoped. I stepped up onto the gangplank and carefully made my way up, praying fervently that I did not loose my footing.

A gruff voice shouted from below, “Who goes there?” When I did not answer immediately, lest I lose my concentration and my step, a grizzled, leathery head popped up from the hold. He appeared to be as worn as his ship and his clothes hung from his body in the most incongruous way, apparently sewn for a man twice his size.

“Ah! Mrs. Aspern I presume?” He scrambled up to assist me. His hand was worn and calloused as he offered it to me, but his grip was strong as a vise and reassuring. He introduced himself as the first mate. “Just call me Frenchy,” he muttered.

He welcomed me aboard and showed me to my berth in the cargo hold, a sparsely furnished and very tiny room with a narrow bed. My trunk had indeed arrived. There was no heat source in the room, but it was out of the wind and for now, that was enough.

The journey would take several days. I had packed some provisions but not not enough as there was little to spare. I had hoped that there would be some food to be spared by the crew but that seemed unlikely.

There was a knocking on the door. I opened it a crack.

“Beg your pardon, miss!” a young lad of about twelve was standing there, a cap twisted up in his grimy hands. His greasy hair was plastered to his head. He grinned. “The captain would like a word with you.” His voice cracked.  He looked sheepishly apologetic.

“Certainly. Please lead the way.”

I closed the door firmly behind me and followed a path through the piles of provisions on their way to the troops. As we made our way I was halted when my skirt caught on a protruding nail, tearing a nice gash in the fabric that I would have to repair later. I moved more carefully thereafter. Skirts were not for the Crimea.

The captain was a swarthy fellow who smelled of stale tobacco. I had met him the day before when I had booked passage with him. Every few minutes he would pause to lean over in his chair. He would hawk the juices from the chaw he held in his mouth, grinning with satisfaction as it rang out upon hitting the spittoon beside him. The wad was so large it made understanding him somewhat difficult.

“Missus Aspern,” he said, wiping the leftover spit from his chin with the sleeve of his dark blue coat. “Won’t ya sit down?” He nodded at the worn sofa.

“Mr. Brandishire.” I remained standing. Truthfully, I was afraid to sit on the thing. I imagined him lying naked on it at some point, scratching his balls. I shuddered involuntarily.

He cocked an eyebrow at me but said nothing. Awkward silence ensued. My eyes wandered over the worn table, bolted to the floor, the wooden chairs stacked in a corner. This room must double as an officer’s mess. The Resolute was a private vessel contracted by the British army to deliver goods, it had clearly seen better times.

Finally, he spoke. “I hope you will join us for dinner?”

“Yes. I would be delighted.” I was certain that the word delighted was not the right choice. I was, however, grateful for the offer of food.

“Is there anythin’ else ya be needin’?” he asked.

“No. No, Mr. Brandishire. Thank you.”

“Thomas will see you back to your room, then.” He stood and stuck his head out the door, bellowing, “Tommy!” I winced.

While we waited for the boy, he took my hand and with a flourish made a chivalrous bow that made me laugh. It helped put me at ease. “Please, if ya be needin’ anythin’….” He trailed off.

“I will be sure to notify you at once. Thank you.”

He was smiling, his tobacco stained teeth showing as I left. It was nice to be in the presence of someone who was not suffering, or dying, or looking to get into my drawers. Maybe this brief voyage would be pleasant after all.

Chapter Forty-Six: Parasites

My hair fell into a great reddish-brown cloud at my feet, illuminated by the cold early morning sunlight that crept through the window in the washroom. Tears caught in my throat, making it difficult to swallow. I was parting with the one thing that defined who I was, what made me Evelyn.

I had no choice. Lice!

They were everywhere. A personal infestation was inevitable. I had tried all of the remedies I could find, short of mercury. Kerosene, sulfur mixed in lard, nit combs daily for weeks at a time, vinegar. Nothing worked for long.

In the end, it was too much. The itch in my scalp along with the raised, itchy sores on my body from the bed bugs were driving me to the brink of insanity. I rid myself of the mattress, choosing instead to sleep on the wooden slats. I washed the sheets and blankets and clothing myself in boiling water once a week.

Then I had cut off my hair. I used the scissors myself and cropped it as short as I could without assistance. My white uniform cap would hide it well for the most part but I was still losing a part of myself. I worked as fast as I could. I had a full day of work ahead of me.

My hand ran across the short stubble that now lay across my scalp. That should do it. It felt better once the deed was done. It would grow back.

I spent the rest of the day sorting through new arrivals from the ships, dressing wounds and telling the orderlies who to bathe. Nurses were not allowed to touch the men in certain areas and bathing them was strictly forbidden. In fact, there was so much fear over the men’s lusts, they were given bromide to curb it. Never mind the fact that the majority here could not begin to act on any desires they may have felt. It was the orderlies that needed something, the whole lying, stealing, cheating lot of them.

By the time the wounded finally reached Scutari, the layers of accumulated filth had to be addressed. Much of the clothing had to be burned. Patients were triaged. The actively dying over there, those requiring surgery over here, those with fevers including those with typhus and cholera were sent to other side of the hospital in the hopes that they would not infect others from their relative isolation. Not that it helped any at all.

I moved through the dozens of new arrivals, careful to not breathe through my nose so as to avoid the stench. Camphor could only do so much.

There were missing limbs, gangrene, camp fever, dysentery, chill blains. Faces swollen from dental abscesses. Malnutrition. Boils.

One young man had lost his left eye. The ear on that side was hanging off, only attached by a small bridge of flesh. Much of the tissue was rotting, but he would not allow anyone to remove it, even if it meant his death.

Another had a wound on his chest that had not received attention for weeks. When I pulled back his shirt, I was taken aback by the mass of maggots writhing in the cavity. I began scooping them out by hand.

For the most part now, though, I was numb to the horror. I had spent several hours one night crying but not because of the death here. I was crying because I could not feel the sadness anymore that I thought all of that death should warrant. I had become something less than human. Then, I realized how much of a blessing this numbness was. Some women never reached that point and it broke them. Others looked for other ways out.

Like Madge. At dinner, Madge announced to everyone that she would be leaving in a few weeks. She was marrying one of the men she had nursed back to health. This prompted a rare visit to the dormitory by Ms. Nightingale. She was livid. Her face red, she demanded that Madge pack her belongings and leave immediately, telling her that she was a disgrace. Never mind the fact that there was nowhere for her to go.

It was then that I decided finally to leave Scutari.

Chapter Forty-Five: Deeper into Hell

“Get your hands off of me,” I said again through clenched teeth, carefully enunciating each word.

I was pinned against the wall in a narrow, dirty passageway near the kitchens in Scutari. I had been returning missed dishes from dinner on the ward, items the orderlies had not collected when they had come through.

The orderly was obese, his belly pressing into mine. “Aw, you don’t mean that, do you?” He leaned in closer, attempting to kiss me. His hands tried to lift my skirts. I ducked away and broke free, but he stood in my way. He had that stale, sour smell of fermentation about him, the smell that indicated he was not able or not motivated to clean adequately between the skin folds.

“I most certainly do mean it, Mr. Blige, I can assure you.” I glowered at him, hoping the display of anger would hold back the tears. Do not show weakness. “Now, let me pass or I shall scream loud enough to bring Ms. Nightingale herself running straight over.”

He did not appear to take me seriously. As he laughed, his belly shook. I shoved past him.

“What is wrong? I am not good enough for you? Where is your good doctor, anyway?” he called out after me. Go to hell, you bastard.

I made haste to the dormitory. Madge was already asleep. That was just as well. We never spoke anymore. I spent my days fighting off men and enduring spiteful glares and gossip from the women. The only relief I had was sleep.

Meanwhile on the wards patients were dying, dozens at a time. Not from their wounds. Instead it was a cholera outbreak. The halls were overrun with vomit and diarrhea, the stench was overpowering. The orderlies stopped feeding or cleaning the ones they felt would soon die, leaving them to lie in filthy pools of their own excrement. Wounded soldiers made a 13 day journey aboard tightly cramped ships from the battlefields to the hospital at Scutari. Cholera was starting there and spreading throughout the remainder of the hospital and staff was not immune. The death rate from cholera here was sixty percent. New faces quickly succumbed. Beds were crowded 1-2 feet apart, as there was simply not enough space to house all of the ill. In the morning I would have to find the bodies that had grown stiff in the night and have them removed.

I lay in the bed. Fatigue overwhelmed me but my thoughts could not leave me in peace.

Dr. Jenkins was gone but no one understood what that meant. Only I knew that a man like that does not change. He would have continued to make his conquests, his desires never sated. Now, while the desires may be there, the scar tissues would prevent him from acting on them. Arousal would be too painful. I did not know why he had left or where he had gone, nor did I care. I had no remorse for assisting him afterward. But I was not sure how much longer I could endure this. Fantasies about packing up and moving on began to arise.

Sleep found me.

The following day, I took the few minutes of my noon meal to instead walk along the wharf for some air. I did not get to come often, but the brisk sea breeze and the cries of the gulls helped to clear my mind.

As I was made my way along the sea wall, a dark skinned woman approached. She had stepped off a ship that was moored there, the Hollander. It had arrived earlier this morning with supplies. Deck hands were busy unloading pallets and barrels, their shouts punctuating my steps. I stopped and waited for her as she looked as if she were lost.

“Excuse me. I am looking for a hospital…Scutari. Is this it?” She gestured to the white stone building on the hilltop over my shoulder.


I stared at her. She must have been about fifty. Her accent was strange. Jamaican. But not. I could not see much of her dark, wavy hair because of the expensive stiff, dark brown bonnet tied beneath her chin. She was pleasantly round and had a reassuring, comforting countenance. Her dress was a brown silk made for traveling but exquisitely detailed, nonetheless. She liked nice things.

“Thank you.” She placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed as she moved past.

I watched her go, starting the ascent by following the road the casualties followed from their ships to their doom.

“Wait!” I called. “I will go with you.”

We all wore the same uniform at Scutari, the nurses. A frightful gray tweed dress called a wrapper with a matching jacket, a dark gray short wool cloak, and a plain white cap with a sash that had the word Scutari embroidered in red that was worn like a banner across the chest. While ugly, it showed we were were not part of the group of rowdy prostitutes that resided in the encampment below when we ventured out. I had been promoted to nurse recently, as I had shown aptitude on the wards and was willing to work hard.

I hiked up my skirts a bit so I would not trip, but not enough to be scandalous, and ran to catch up. Breathless, I asked “What is your name?” as I stretched out my hand.

She took it, “Mary. Mary Seacole.” I provided my name and we walked side by side in silence until we reached the hospital itself.

“I must speak with Ms. Nightingale. I have a letter of introduction to her from a Dr. Jenkins whom I met in Malta.”

Malta. So he did not kill himself? Damn. I had held out hope that even though I could not actually kill him, that he or God would do that for me.

I had assumed that she desired to join the staff here, but as I walked her to the tower, to Ms. Nightingales’ office, she told me of her intentions to open a British Hotel at Balaclava. It would provide food and lodging to sick and convalescing officers.

Balaclava was across the Black Sea, closer to the fighting. Away from here. My heart pounded and my palms sweated. Did I dare?

But I said nothing. Instead, I showed her the stairwell and pointed her toward the offices. Then I returned to my duties among the sick and dying.

Chapter Forty-Four: Forgiveness

What was forgiveness?

I did not know if I had the capacity for it. I did not help him for his sake. It was for my own self. Somehow it assuaged the guilt I felt for my own part in this. Now that it was done, now that my revenge had been exacted, I worried about the remorse I felt.

Through the coming days and weeks, his hands healed well. They had not been exposed to the acid as long; he had wiped them on the towel first. He was able to move them with a fair amount of dexterity. He would not loose his profession.

Elsewhere was a different story. I was instructed to obtain carbolic acid and apply that to the dressings. When that started to irritate the tissues, we diluted it. He instructed me to wash my hands before and after, telling me that he believed infection was not in the air, the miasma, but was rather spread by contact with infected tissues. Infection was all around us. He waited anxiously with each dressing change…would the purulence manifest itself this time?

His pain was great. As it should be. He did not ask for laudanum, and I did not offer it.

Madge and everyone in the place seemed deeply interested in what was going between us. Certainly, assumptions were made. Other women stopped speaking to me. Men gave me brazen looks that bordered on the offensive. Some took liberties, cornering me and touching me in unpleasant ways. But how could I tell them what I had done?

Eventually, he was able to move about. I made him start do his own dressings. He practiced movements with his fingers to keep them supple as the scar tissue formed: shaving, sewing, writing. Without the ability to feel, he had to relearn many things.

“I want you to leave,” I told him as I supervised him applying a new dressing to his genitals. The area, after many weeks, was almost completely healed. The scarring was extensive. And gratifying on some level.

He looked up, surprised.


“I would think that would be obvious.”

He grew silent.

“I have no where to go.”

“Why are you here, exactly?”

More silence. He did not look away, but I could tell he was uncomfortable. I knew the answer. His desires had burned bridges, chased him here to a war.

I had to tell him. “I hate you.”

“I know.” He offered no further apology. Only more silence.

I stood and took my leave. The next day, he was gone.

Chapter Forty-Three: Thawing

I yawned.

“Evie, cover your mouth!” Madge looked incredulous. “You don’t want the devil sneaking in, do you?”

Too late.

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.

“Leave us!”

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.

Chapter Forty-Two: Revenge

I could hear Madge’s heavy snoring and knew it was time. I sat up in the bed and looked around warily. Everyone else seemed asleep. Good.

My shift was thin and hardly a barrier against the cold but I did not want to dress. I considered throwing on my dressing gown but decided against it….nothing else should get in the way. I wanted this unpleasantness to go quickly.

I stood and silently opened my trunk. The white cotton flannel gown billowed up softly around me as I squatted. The glass was cold in my hand. Revenge was cold. And calculated.

I had fashioned a pouch that would go about my neck. I slipped it over my head and slid my revenge into it, pulling the drawstring tight. My heart beat faster as it lay between my breasts. The pouch would hold it securely and hopefully keep the glass stopper in place. Nothing could be allowed to spill.

I crept quickly out of the dormitory, past the sleeping bodies, into the wards.

The silence was as thick as the darkness. It was disconcerting, particularly given the fact that the hospital was full of wounded men in pain. Not a single groan could be heard.

I dared not use a lamp. Some light was visible through the windows but moonlight was hard to come by as it was a cloudy night. I had travelled the route several times during daylight hours in preparation for this journey, but the landscape had been rearranged in the interim, I was certain.


I froze. Who was there?

I looked around. No one was moving in the shadows. I could not tell where the hoarse whisper had come from. Finally, I took a tentative step. Nothing. I took another.

“Please, miss. Some water?” A bed creaked in the corner. There!

“Yes, yes. I will bring you some water shortly,” I whispered back. Hopefully he would be asleep when I returned.

Moving more quickly, I rounded the corner to the physician quarters. I was not entirely sure which room was his and I had worried about this since I had not questioned him in the surgery. However, I had no reason to fear. He was standing in his darkened doorway, waiting.

“I have come,” I said quietly.

“I had no doubt.”

He ushered me inside and closed the door firmly, turning the lock.

He lit a lamp on the dresser. I was relieved to see that he still had his conquests use the alum and sulfate of zinc solution, the metal syringe lying next to a small bowl by the wash basin.

“Take off your shift. I want to see your body.”

I hesitated.

“Now!” Anger flashed in his eyes.

I complied, untying the neck and allowing it to fall to my feet.

“Your amulet will not protect you.” He pointed at my revenge.

“Perhaps not.” I shrugged. I clasped my hands across my back, unsure what to do with them and afraid that the trembling of my hands would give me away.

He circled my naked body, slowly. There was a fire in the grate but the chill was still enough to make the goose flesh stand out.

He paused, putting his hand on my belly where the stretch marks and extra flesh lay. He caressed it.

“You carried a child once.”

“Yes.” Anger burned within me. I hated him for knowing where my most vulnerable parts hid.


“It was not yours, if that is your concern,” I said sharply. You bastard.

He smiled, satisfied. The hand moved to my fabric pouch, lifting it slightly as if to look at it closer, then dropped it, apparently thinking the better of it. His hand moved to my left breast instead.

He used his thumb to caress the nipple. I glared at him. He laughed.

“Well, this is for me, not for you.”

He squeezed, digging his nails into my flesh. I winced and wrested away, but he grabbed me and pinned me face first into the nearby wall. He was behind me freeing his trousers. He pushed me harder, my breasts shoved flat against the cold wall. He used his foot to shove my legs apart.

Soon it was over. I could feel it running down my leg.

He released his hold and stepped back.

“Clean up! You know how.” He buttoned his trousers.

Silently, careful to keep my back to him, I moved to the dresser. He sat down on the bed behind me. I imagined his arms were crossed, a self satisfied grin playing on his face.

I used his solution, leaving a small puddle on his floor.

“Clean that up!” he said sharply. I looked around for something to use. My eyes settled on his shirt. No, that is asking for trouble. There was a towel but I needed that for myself. Instead, I used my shift. That would make him happy.

I poured water from the pitcher into the wash basin and splashed my face. Quickly, I pulled the pouch open, removed the vial, and poured the contents into the water. I shoved the bottle back into my pouch, drawing the string closed as I reached for the cloth laid out beside the bowel and dried my face.

I stooped down and picked up my gown, pulling it down over my head and settling the soft fabric onto my shoulders. I tied the string at the neckline again. Careful not to make eye contact, I walked quickly to the door, unlocked it, and retreated into the darkness. I moved as quickly as I could. I could hear the lock turn behind me as I reached the end of the corridor.

If he were like most men, after relations he would wash his genitals first. That was what I was counting on.

As I moved through the wards, I stopped at a sleeping soldier’s bed. A double amputee, I could see from the outline of the blankets on his bed. I opened my pouch and slid the now empty vial beneath the mattress. Perhaps it would not be found for some time. Sheets were changed very infrequently as keeping up with the laundry here was almost impossible. Hopefully, I could use this to my advantage.

“Water!” the patient in the corner of the next ward rasped as I moved fast past him. Not asleep. I kept my face averted, hoping it was dark enough that he would not recognize me later in my shapeless shift.

Once back at the dormitory, under the pretense of putting another log in the stove, I dropped my pouch into the fire and watched as it quickly turned to ash.

I lay awake the rest on the night, waiting for the alarm to sound. Hours passed and I began to worry that pouring it into the water had diluted it too much. I was not a chemist. Or an apothecary.

A drop from the vial had touched my skin, leaving a tiny burn on my chest over my heart. The pain was not bad. It was only a small drop of the sulfuric acid. But the burning nagged and could not be ignored.

As dawn arrived, those around me stirred. I rose to face the day, full of self doubt. If my plan had failed, he would continue to use me until he tired of my body. Then he would move to the next one. I wrestled with whether or not to steal more acid from the pharmacy as I dressed.

Next time, I decided, I would steal a knife from the surgery and deal with the consequences of a direct attack.

Chapter Forty-One: Learning

I did not want to kill him. No. I wanted something more sinister, more painful.

The work I did here at Scutari was mind numbing but necessary. It left my brain free to wander. To plan.

“Mrs. Aspern!” The sharp tone brought me round instantly. I looked up from The bandages. An orderly was at the doorway. A look of disdain washed over his face. “Dr. Jenkins requests your assistance.”

I stood.

This was what I had been waiting for. Days had passed and I had been afraid that my bravado might have sent him away from me for good. Apparently not.

I followed the tall, shuffling orderly to the surgery wing. When I entered the room, I found him alone with an unfortunate soldier whose left leg was clearly unsalvageable. The sickly sweet smell of gangrene was evident. The tourniquet was wound tightly at the upper thigh and the chloroform mask was in place. Muffled groans were audible but there was no struggle. The amputation saw was at the ready.

“Shall I stay to assist, Dr. Jenkins?” The orderly sounded hopeful.

“No, George, you may go. I am sure there are many other places you are needed.”

The orderly looked over knowingly at me, then made his retreat. Did he know this was going to be awful or that I was now a target?

Dr. Jenkins stared blankly at me. No trace of emotion. “Hold his leg there,” he said curtly, pointing to what was left of the lower thigh.

I placed my hands on the shredded flesh, warm and yet cold beneath my fingers. He expertly sawed through the muscles and sinews.

“Hold it tighter for Christ’s sake!” he said through clenched teeth. The savage sawing of the femur bone generated quite a bit of force and holding it steady was near impossible.

Sweat broke out across his forehead as he worked.

Finally, it was done.

“Dispose of that leg in the corner. The orderlies will clear it out later.” He pointed to a spot by the door where two other legs lay.

The weight of the single leg was actually quite a bit heavier than I was expecting. The whole thing was unwieldy as the knee and ankle flopped about and the fractures ground against each other. I stood it up in the corner, balancing it upright somehow. It looked more natural that way.

I returned to his side and assisted with cutting sutures as he sewed the skin and muscle flaps neatly over the stump. Soon, the job was done.

As he threw soiled instruments and bone saws into the bloody basin, I applied a close approximation of a dressing. The patient grimaced beneath his five day stubble but remained unconscious.

I looked over and caught Dr. Jenkins watching me. He did not turn away even when he realized I had caught him staring.

“What do you want from me?” I asked finally. “What will it take to get you to leave me alone?”

“You know what I want.”


He approached me, leaning against the length of my body, pressing his groin against my hip. He was aroused. His lips were at my ear. “I want control. Of you.”

He pressed in closer. I looked down at his hands. I was relieved. He had already washed them.

I whispered back, “And if I do this, once, you will leave me alone?” I willed myself to stay put, to not back away. He repulsed me so.

“If you wish.”

But we both knew that was a lie.

“Fine,” I said warily. This was crucial. He wanted control, I had to make him believe that he had it.

“My room tonight. At midnight.”

I nodded assent.

Physicians and surgeons on staff had their own private rooms at the other side of the hospital. I would have to be careful to not be seen, particularly as Ms. Nightingale made her nightly rounds.

I was startled by a muffled slap. I looked over at the corner. My leg had toppled over.

“Ah, well. I look forward to it Madame!” He backed away a few inches, laughing unpleasantly. Then, as if on impulse, he stepped toward me again. He took my face in his hands and kissed me violently. I had to choke back vomit as I pushed him away.

He left the operating room, whistling, leaving me alone with the soldier and the severed limbs, unsure of what to do next for the waking man’s pain.

I hurriedly washed my hands in the now bloody water, stirring it into a cloudy, red vortex with my fingers. I dried my hands on a bit of towel left unsoiled by Dr. Jenkins. I knew that while they may appear spotless, there was no possible way that they were clean.

Then I tried to calm the now agitated patient, and hoped that his screams would soon bring an orderly.

I waited.

Chapter Forty: Preparations

“What did she say?” Madge whispered softly.

We were in the dormitory. We had ended our long shifts, eaten a few bites, washed up as best we could, and were lying in our bunks in night gowns, bundled in coarse army issue woolen blankets to guard against the chill. Moonlight streamed in from a tiny window at the end of the long room. The only other light came from the glow of the wood stove at the center of the room, used for heating. Other women were already asleep or had just awakened to begin the night shift.

I did not want to discuss this with Madge. I rolled over and said, “Go to sleep.”

“No! Tell me.” Her bed creaked as her body shifted and suddenly her head was peeking over the mattress above me. Her hair dangled in a long plait that stretched almost comically to my own mattress, swaying to and fro.

“Madge! Go to sleep.”

In seconds, she had slid down off of the bunk and was kneeling barefoot beside me. She knelt there silently, inches away from my face, making it clear that she did not intend to go anywhere until I had told her what she wanted. Damn it!

I whispered, “She said that Dr. Jenkins had told her that I had disobeyed an order and put a patient at risk.”

“You didn’t did you?” she whispered back.

“No, of course not!”

She nodded. “I hate him.”

I sat up. “You have met him?”

“Yes.” She started to climb back up. “More than met him.”

“Wait! What do you mean?” I grabbed her arm.

She paused a moment, thoughtfully, then spoke. “He told me that I had to perform certain services for him or he would report me to her. Watch out for him, Evie.”

“Did he touch you?” I had to ask.

Again, she paused. She uttered a very quiet, almost imperceptible, “Yes,” then launched herself back up atop her bunk.

I was not sure what to say. Should I comfort her? Tell her my plan? Pretend I had not heard?

I allowed a few minutes to pass, the bed frame creaking again overhead as she settled into a comfortable position beneath her covers.

“Madge?” I whispered.


Perhaps it was best that way. I did not want to talk about the details of my experiences with him. One could not predict human nature. Would she feel compelled to purge her conscience by telling others of what happened to me? In this case I could trust no one.

Clearly, this man was a predator. In the short time he had been here, he had managed to threaten his way into the drawers of how many women? And in the intervening years between my time in Edinburgh and now, how many hundreds more had he hurt? Guilt ate at the fringes of my mind. I had known what he was then, but I had not tried to stop him.

In a dark corner of my trunk, at the end of the bed, lay the small, glass vial that would be his undoing.