Chapter Seventy-Six: Grievances 

IMG_2114

I brushed a small buzzing insect away from my face, waiting. 

We both eyed each other. 

“Who are you?” I repeated. 

Her smile continued, unwavering. “I am looking for Nathaniel Brierly.”  

stood silently, weighing my answer, hoping my face did not betray the fear. 

Oh, God! What did she know? 

Somehow I knew this day would come.   Be sure your sins will find you out… 

“I am not acquainted with him.” I lied. “Does he live around here?”  

Anne squealed and reached behind my shoulder for some imaginary play thing. I had turned her back to the woman as we had come up the walk. Now I shifted the weight to keep her from falling but this allowed her to grab my hair. The pain from the sudden yank stung in my eyes as I untangled her fingers and turned her around on my my hip.  

“I think you are… acquainted.” She motioned to Anne as the smile faded from her face. “How old is the baby?”

“I think you need to leave.”  

For a moment the veil lifted. Fear and hurt showed in her eyes. Her skirt shifted and the red silk fabric rustled like the whispering leaves overhead as she stepped forward, holding out her hand. 

I stared at the slim, pale fingers. No resemblance there. 

“I… I….” She stopped, pulling her hand back when I did not accept it. “My name is Mrs. Anne Brierly. He is my husband.” She appeared close to tears as she handed me a calling card printed with her name in black inked script. “Please.” She paused again, seemingly unsure of how to proceed. “I am sorry. I need to speak with you.”

I wanted to scream at her, to fly into a jealous rage. Bite. Claw. Kick. Spit. She shared his life! I only had a small part of it here in my arms.  

“Why?” I whispered. 

“May I come in?” 

Warily, I nodded my head and motioned for her to follow me inside.

She left her bonnet on her head as I busied myself preparing tea.  

“May I?” She wanted to pick up Anne. 

Anne wanted to hold Anne… 

nodded but watched carefully out of the corner of my eye as I put up the newly purchased goods and the kettle heated on the stove. 

She pulled the garnet earring out of her earlobe and dangled it before the giggling baby who chased it with her hands.  

“She is beautiful. What is her name?”

I hesitated. “Anne.” The woman stopped playing with the earring and looked over at me, surprised. “I didn’t know it was your name.”

She nodded, silently, then went back to playing seemingly satisfied.

“You have girls, too, don’t you?” 

She looked up, surprised. “Yes.” 

“How many?” 

 “Two…” 

“Any boys?” 

“Yes. Well. No. Actually no….” Her voice drifted off. We both understood what that meant. 

“What happened to her arm?” She asked softly. 

“It is a long story… not one that I am ready to tell as yet.” 

“Oh…..” She put the earring back in her ear.  

I put Anne down for a nap while the tea steeped. I took my time, hoping to steel myself for whatever was to come next. 

When I returned, we sat across from each other at the table in the kitchen. I poured the tea. We made eye contact over our teacups as we sipped, punctuating time with the clink of china upon china. 

“Why do you have his smile?” I finally asked her. 

She put her cup down delicately but a tremble in her hand made it rattle as it hit the saucer. She took a deep breath, then spoke softly. 

“Nathaniel was my second cousin. I was much, much younger than he. I looked up to him. I thought he was the most gallant and handsome man I had ever met. I rarely saw him but I spent my time infatuated, thinking only of what it would be like to be loved by him.” She shrugged. “I was just a little girl.” 

“One day he showed up again. He had completed his medical training and had toured in the States, talking about something or other.” She waved her hand dismissively. “I resolved to make him mine.” She steepled her fingers in front of her face and brushed her lips across the tips. “So I used everything in my power….” 

She paused for a sip of tea, realized her hand still trembled too much, then quickly put it back down.

“I was soon pregnant and family pressure forced a wedding.” She paused. “I gave birth to a boy. He… the baby… was not right. Only one eye. His face was split from his lip to his nose. His belly was turned inside out.” 

The hair stood out on my forearms.  

Just like my little Levi. 

“He died?” I asked. 

She nodded.

“Within a few years we had two daughters. His behavior at home was erratic and I saw less and less of him as he became more well known in Edinburgh. He would stay there for months at a time. 

“Finally, one day, he sent me a letter, saying that he was leaving for the Crimea. No explanation. Just leaving.” More anguish was showing on her face. “Every now and then we would get vague letters from him about the cold or the terrible food but they were rare.”

“When he finally came back, he was a shadow. A tortured soul.” Her eyes bored into me. “I didn’t know why.” Another pause. “He started to drink. Not just a little bit. No. Heavily. Drowning sorrows, he said. I thought it was because of his leg, the fact that he could not walk well any more, or because of things that he had seen…. there.” She lowered her voice to almost a whisper. “There were terrible stories, you know.” Then she laughed. “Of course you know. You were there. You were there with him, weren’t you?” Her voice cracked.

“Yes.” I breathed. 

“One night, in a drunken stupor he called me by your name. He talked to me about his leg. About you. To him I did not exist as myself, I was his dear Evelyn.” She sobbed out of grief and rage. “I felt what it was like to be loved by him that night….” 

There was silence for a few long minutes as we measured each other from across the table. I was unsure what to say. Finally, she spoke again. 

“I decided to find out who you were.”

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.

“Miss!”

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.

“When?”

“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.