Chapter Sixty-Four: Victorious

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Pain wracked my body. It filled me to overflowing, consumed. I was certain I could not take more and continue living.

But I could.

I would.

I looked around the darkened room. Where was the air? I needed to breathe but I could not find the air.

“Have some laudanum, love.” Rough hands smoothed the sweat matted hair back from my forehead. A spoon hovered at my lips.

No!

“I am not dying yet,” I said through clinched teeth.

Pity in the eyes around me.

Was I dying?

I felt the urge to push. Screams flowed from my mouth involuntarily as I bared down. Again. Again. Again. No end.

And if I never see you again in this life….this, this moment will be enough. Do you even hear me? Do you hear my heart crying out for you in all of this pain and loneliness?

One last sob ripped from my throat.

Silence.

I could not see. My eyes were burning from the salty sweat that had run into them. I blinked. Once. Twice.

The midwife was smiling.

Smiling!

New cries filled the void left by my own. High pitched and plaintive and never before heard on this earth. Then there, in my arms, was my baby. So light and yet so heavy. Two brown eyes and a perfect little nose peeked out from the swaddling. Suddenly the face scrunched up like a wizened old man. A perfect little pout!

I pulled back the blankets and stared. At first there was relief. Everything was as it should be.

Then it was not.

A girl.

A girl?

Her hair was dark. Brown. She smiled up at me, but I felt nothing for her anymore.

This was not my baby. God owed me a boy. Not a girl. What would I do with a girl?

Levi had had blond hair, bright like the light from angels’ wings. It had been perfect even if the rest of him had not been. This baby I had carried was supposed to be a boy. With blonde hair.

Instead, I have this? Disappointment flooded my heart.

Why couldn’t you give me my angel?

I wrapped her up again and pushed her away. The midwife looked on and shook her head. More pity.

“Take her away!”

The maid scooped her up and stepped back, fear and uncertainty played on her young face.

“Go!” I waved my hand in dismissal.

Then something in my heart snapped. I felt it. Pain of another sort welled up and tears flowed, wracking my body with sobs. My breasts ached.

“My baby girl, give her to me!” The maid nodded, relieved, and passed the little bundle back.

I held her close. Her eyes fluttered closed as a triumphant half smile played on her tiny rosebud lips. A peaceful repose. Her first victory.

I would love her. She was all that I had left of love. She was mine.

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.

“Why?”

“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 Three: Preservation

It was thusly that I set off to meet my future in Edinburgh.  My friend, Jane, now gone, with nothing to show for her life but a handful of memories, a marble tomb complete with bittersweet poetry carved between angelic cherubs, and a stricken shell of a husband.  My conscience weighed upon me.  I had acted rashly.  One person’s suffering had been bad enough, but I could not bear to watch the suffering of two.  I was frightened by what that meant.  Was I not strong?   Would I be eternally damned for those extra spoonfuls of laudanum?

We had booked passage on a magnificent Cunard ship named the Cambria that left from Boston and sailed to Liverpool.  From there we would have to travel by rail to Edinburgh.  The crossing by ocean liner was expected to take two weeks. 

The ship itself was breathtaking.  I marveled at the skill of humankind to create a vessel this large that was sea worthy.  I should have had more trepidation.  After all people died all of the time on crossings of this kind, but my own death was far from my thoughts at this point.  I knew somehow that this was not how I would end.  Dying in a shipwreck did not seem fitting enough as a form of divine retaliation for what I had done.

We brought two servants with us.  One was John Marcum, a middle aged steward who had no family to speak of.  He had worked for my father for over twenty years and had been charged by him with our protection.  He made a formidable picture, standing just over six feet with thick, muscular arms and legs.  He wore a long beard across his deeply creased face that was a color of brown that ultimately was a shade lighter than the hair on the top of his head.  Gray had just begun to creep in.  He always wore black.  When at age five I had asked him why, he had replied soberly that it was to mourn his mother.  She surely had been dead for many years, as I do not recall him ever wearing any other color throughout my lifetime.

The other servant was a sweet, homely Irish girl of fourteen named Emma who had become my personal maid.  We had taken her on several months prior as a favor for one of my father’s friends.  Reportedly he had been unable to keep her on after his own daughter had died of cholera.  She had already become a dear friend to me.   Her deep red hair was an envy of mine and her Irish lilt added to her charm.  I had asked her to teach me a few Gaelic words, but she had pointed out that Irish Gaelic was different enough from Scottish Gaelic to not be much of a help to me.  

The passage across the Atlantic was uneventful after the first few days of illness had passed that acquiring one’s sea legs requires.  The food was fair.  I did a good amount of walking with Emma on the deck, strolling past the other gentlemen and ladies and children headed for their own new lives, or perhaps returning to them.  I was always protected from the sun by wide hats, parasols, scarves.  Its mystical complexion ruining powers would scuttle my season before it started.  Weather permitting I would often sit in the shade of the deck with a cup of tea, lost in my thoughts.  A few other passengers ventured to engage me in conversation from time to time, but quickly gave up as I was clearly not in the mood for discourse.

My mother took note of my brooding, attributing it to the usual grieving that accompanies the loss of a friend, and brought it upon herself repeatedly to lecture me about the necessity of maintaining the appearance of gaiety, as no man would want to wed a woman with a perpetually somber countenance.  “Evelyn, you simply MUST smile more!” she continually implored.  I always thanked her for her concern, and as usual would then return to my tea and my thoughts, continually revisiting the subjects of death, guilt, and laudanum in the recesses of my mind that she and no one else could see.

We made port in Liverpool and boarded a train for Edinburgh with our vast collection of trunks and the handful of servants in tow.  Travelling by train was not a new experience for me, but after such a long voyage it was particularly tedious. 

My father had arranged apartments in the New Town just off of George’s Street.  We arrived at the new Waverly Station on March 12, 1847.  As we worked to secure several carriages to transport us and our belongings I could see the newly erected Sir Walter Scott Memorial just beyond the station with it pointed, gothic spires stretched to the heavens.  Our temporary residence would be in a townhouse located in Charlotte’s Square  with its distinctive Georgian architecture.  The season started in less than a month and there was much work to be done, securing the right connections. 

Our accommodations were more than satisfactory, I was relieved to say.  The drawing room, just off of the creamy marbled entrance hall was dominated by a great carved mahogany mantelpiece and a heavy crystal chandelier that hung from the ceiling.  Clearly it had been recently renovated as it retained little of the uncomplicated and regal Georgian décor.  The walls were covered with elegant salmon wallpaper with gold detailing, the ceiling with a contrasting bright blue paper and matching gold detailing.  The ornate plasterwork molding ran the length of the room with its swirling leaves and tiny thistles.  There were two green patterned camel backed sofas flanking each side of the fire grate, as well as a gathering of carved, stuffed chairs by the great windows that stretched from floor to ceiling.  The windows themselves were draped with thick, navy-colored silks with gold tassels that ran the length of the folds.  The floor was carpeted with a thick wool pile in a blue, green, and red geometric pattern that left the head spinning.  In fact, I could look out of the drawing room windows across the square with its trees and green space to see the tall spire of St. George’s Church, a part of the recently formed Free Church of Scotland.  There were several paintings of venerable Scottish royalty or variable ranks that continually stared at me from their frames about the room. 

To reach my bedroom on the second floor one had to traverse the gently winding staircase from the entrance hall.  A skylight lit the way from above (how does that fair in a hale storm, I wondered).  I was delighted to see that the room contained a canopied bed with ornately embroidered yellow floral motifs on white linens and that the windows were capped with matching cornices.  The walls were striped with ivory and pale yellow while the mantelpiece was painted white and supported a massive gold framed mirror.   Two daintily carved chairs sat opposite each other before the fireplace.  A dark wooden writing desk occupied the wall between the two windows, stocked already with fine writing papers and envelopes.    A young woman with jet black hair grimaced at me from her portrait above the desk, her pale blue silks and lace draping her slender, pale shoulders.  A dark brooch with the word RECUERDO was pinned to her shoulder and I silently wondered as to its meaning.  Memory. Whose memory?

Mother’s room was located across the landing and was appropriately much more somber, with its dark wood and burgundy velvet trappings. 

The servants’ quarters were on the third floor up a narrow, dark staircase.   I did not intend to venture there very often if I could avoid it.

In short order, I had unpacked with the assistance of Emma and my mother.  The evening had not even closed as my mother began to plot her strategy…

In hind sight I understand now that my mother’s urgency, her obsession and attention to detail were not about her love for me, but rather the pursuit of self preservation.   Once I married, if something happened to my father she would play second to me and to my husband.  My father would not likely have provided an income for her after his death, such was their relationship.  It was crucial for her to find an individual whom she could mold, persuade, even bully if needed in order to secure her own future in the relative comforts to which she had become accustomed.

Yes, there was much work to be done.

Chapter Two: Society

The year of 1846, my friend Jane had her coming out in Cambridge society and in short order had a large compliment of suitors.  She spared no details of the parties and balls that she attended in her large collection of new gowns of Parisian silks and Italian laces.  She listed the attributes and drawbacks of all of the young men that sought her.  Some were too tall, some too short or too fat.  One had an odd high pitched laugh that grated on the nerves.  I was overcome with envy, listening to her exploits.  Tales of candlelight, mirrored ballrooms and fine crystal, military officers in full regalia…all left me breathless and dreamy. 

Upon my sixteenth birthday, it was announced that I would accompany my mother to Edinburgh, Scotland the following year for my coming out.  An odd choice one might think when if you could afford it families sent their daughters to London for the season, and yet my father had planned it in great detail in his mind.  There were no proper Scotsmen to whom to wed me located in any reasonable vicinity.  Edinburgh currently was the center of the intellectual world.  Where better to capture a future heir of sufficiently elevated breeding stock capable of carrying on his legacy than the land from which he came?  I was surprised that my father entrusted this pursuit to my mother, but he believed that he could not be spared from the business and felt that my mother would ultimately look after my best interest as her daughter, that best interest being securing a mate that could run the cotton mill and continue to provide a generous income for me. 

That same season, Jane settled on a handsome, dark haired young lieutenant named James Rush.  Her father could offer no objection, as the fellow was generally well liked, was the proper station, and had a substantial income from his family’s estate.  He was clearly besotted by her.  I was relieved to hear that she indeed loved him.  He had inherited a large estate just outside of Cambridge and thus, she would not be going far from me, leaving me overjoyed.  We spent many hours in the weeks that followed agonizing over the future events of the proposed wedding night, yet strangely very few hours agonizing over the future itself.  Neither of us had been given any instruction whatsoever aside from the raucous stories of the illustrious former governess.  Despite my mother’s clear grasp of the field she had offered no information to me, and it was with fear and trepidation that both of us looked toward that night.  Her wedding was a small, but elegant affair held in her home and attended by a select group of family and friends.  She was lovely in her white silk gown.  A light supper followed and then we said our good-byes, Jane whispering that she would tell me everything when she saw me next.  As she was bundled into the black, shiny carriage for the ride to her new home and the two dappled horses started out, Jane winked at me once then waved farewell through the window.

It was many weeks before I was able to see her again.  I traveled to her new husband’s estate by carriage for an afternoon tea at her invitation.  She had ceased to exist as Jane Smythe.  She was now Mrs. James Allen Rush.  Mr. Rush was away with the regiment and she pined for him throughout my brief visit.  By that time, it was well known that she was with child.  All conversation with her was about the impending arrival of the new little one and little else.  My curiosity about the wedding night, and my own fear of it, was not to be sated. 

My wardrobe for the upcoming season was slowly arranged under my mother’s most critical eye: new stockings, new corsets, new petticoats and crinolines.  Several traveling suits made for our voyage as well as a number of lovely ball gowns and day dresses.  New shoes and hats rounded out the ensembles.  Such finery held so much promise!  In a last push, my father insisted that I immerse myself in Scottish history.  I was forced to learn about William Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scotts, the Highland Clearings… He bemoaned the fact that there was no good haggis to be had anywhere here, a fact that I must confess I was quite happy to hear once I had learned of its ingredients.

Our departure date was to be several weeks after Jane’s confinement and she sent a letter in her flowery hand requesting that I be present with her.  She would have a doctor in attendance, an idea foreign to me as all of the births I had witnessed had been to women too poor to afford such a thing.  James had been called away again she said in her letter, and it was not clear that he would be able to be present himself.  As mother and I packed for the few weeks we would spend with Jane, I was filled with dread.  I had not the heart to inform Jane of what was to come bringing this child into the world.  She had no one that could tell her of such things and had, I was afraid, entered into it with a substantial amount of ignorance and naiveté, despite the fact that her own mother had died doing the very same thing.  I was not sure if this was a blessing or a curse. 

When we arrived at the estate, the housekeeper showed us in.  I was greeted by a rather bloated, puffy version of my beautiful Jane who could only be described as blissfully happy despite her delicate condition.  We spent the next several days reading together and again enjoying each other’s company.  However conversation never could be swayed to the topic of my chief concern:  marital relations.  I had the distinct feeling that she did not wish to discuss it and could artfully direct the conversation in the opposite direction the instant I started to broach the subject without seeming too overt.  It had been almost two weeks since our arrival when I was stirred from sleep by a rather insistent knocking on the door of my bedchamber.  It was one of the maids informing me that Jane’s labor had begun and she was asking for me.  I quickly threw on a robe and followed behind the upheld lamp, led by the maid to the birthing room around the corner that had been set up with all of the necessities. 

“The doctor has been sent for, ma’am.” The maid nodded in the direction of my friend who was on her left side, groaning.  I quickly sat down on the bed and wrung out a fresh cloth in the water basin on the table beside us.  The cool cloth as it touched Jane’s neck caused her to open her eyes.  There was terror in them as she gasped for air and then closed them again, clutching at the bedclothes as the next contraction rolled over her.  She was burning up with fever.  It was then that I realized that there was an inordinate amount of blood on the sheets already.  My heart in my throat, I grasped her hand as my heart tightened. 

“Fetch my mother, now.” The maid left obediently.

My mother arrived a short time later, taking in the scene.  It was now five o’clock in the morning.

“How long has this been going on?” she asked the maid.

“Since shortly after retiring for the evening, ma’am.”

It was over an hour before the doctor arrived with his bag.  He was a thin, wiry man with wire-rimmed spectacles and a high, furrowed brow.  He discretely slipped his hand beneath the sheets, then pulled it away just as Jane arched her back and let out a blood curdling scream of agony.  He made eye contact with my mother and shook his head as he washed his hands in another basin and motioned for her to follow him out of the room.   I also came, leaving Jane with the maid at her side.

“The baby is no longer alive.  I don’t know how long it has been so, but it is likely to have been a number of days,” he said in a low voice.

“What do we do?”

“Nothing.”

My mother nodded understanding.

I was outraged.  “What do you mean, nothing?” I whispered harshly.

The physician turned to look down at me.

“There is nothing to be done.” He placed extra emphasis on the horrid word.

“Can you not do something to dull the pain?” Bless my mother for asking.

“I can give her some laudanum, but only a small amount.”

“She has fever.” I said simply, something inside me knowing what this meant.

“Yes.  The infection means that she will likely not survive this,” he replied simply.

Another loud moan pierced the silence from within.  I hurried through the door back to her side.  The moan was drawn out and the pain clearly left her breathless.  “Evelyn, something is wrong.  It’s not right,” she panted.  I nodded. 

My mother returned with a small bottle in her hand, the laudanum.  She dosed what seemed like a tiny aliquot into a spoon and placed it at Jane’s lips.  Jane grimaced at the taste of the bitter liquid, but seemed to rest a bit afterward.  A number of hours passed with Jane stirring every few minutes, moaning, then seeming to rest.

“Her husband must be sent for.”  My mother had said, rising from a nearby chair much earlier.  “I will see to the arrangements.”  She and the maid had not returned. 

I moved back to the bed, brushing back Jane’s hair from her damp forehead as she writhed again, clearly in pain.  The fire crackled in the grate.  The clock read midday.  I was helpless to ease her suffering aside from the laudanum.  Jane had failed to pass the stillborn body, and it still lay wedged, festering within her.  I longed to ask someone how long this could go on, but I was afraid to leave her alone.  What if she died alone in this room? 

Shortly before nightfall, James arrived.  I could hear what could only be his hurried footfalls on the stairwell, coming down the hallway, pausing for a few seconds with his hand hesitating on the door itself.  I stood as he entered and backed away from the bed.  His jaw was set as he strode across the carpeting, but I could see the shock dawning in his face as he took in the sallow remnants of the woman he loved, fading away before him.  What does a man do when faced with a love like this?  I now know that he falls to his knees at her bedside, his body shaking with great, silent sobs, and with his shoulders bowed with the weight of his grief takes her hand, pressing it to his cheek.  I stood there in the corner for some time transfixed, afraid to stir but at the same time feeling great volumes of guilt for witnessing such a private moment.   Jane groaned loudly and thrashed a bit, clearly not recognizing James through her pain.  There was a strangled sound that escaped from James’ lips at this, rousing me into action.  I stepped toward the bottle of laudanum.  My hands shook as I poured a large amount into the spoon and bent to press it to her lips, gently lifting her head.  When she had taken it, I poured another spoonful and gave it, too, and a third.  Finally, I stopped and backed away.  James stayed by her side, whispering soothing things to her as the minutes ticked by until she finally passed.