Chapter Sixty-Seven: Holy Water


Stepping out into the bright sunshine, squinting, an involuntary sneeze seized my body.

It was the other sensation, however, that stopped me in my tracks:

The unmistakable feeling of warm liquid running down my legs.


I felt the blood drain from my face and then the heat bloomed in my cheeks again as the full reality of what had just happened dawned in my consciousness.

This had been an ongoing issue since the birth. I had taken to fashioning a diaper of sorts between my legs but somehow the quantity of the urine or a faulty positioning of the cloths had led to another failure.

The christening….

We were leaving for the christening, but now I had urinated on myself. Did I turn around to change and end up late or keep going and take my chances? Aside from the discomfort of damp underclothes, the smell of stale urine was sure to arise.

I decided to plough on as we were running late. This should not take terribly long. We would go, do the deed, and come home for the celebratory luncheon where I could excuse myself to change.

Thank goodness for long skirts.

“Here you go, miss.”The coach driver handed me up into the hired carriage. The maid handed the baby in to me once I was settled.

My little one’s eyes sparkled and she cooed, as if she knew she were downright angelic in her long, lacy white gown and bonnet.

Please don’t soil your diaper like your mamma just did, angel.

“We will stop by the next house quickly to collect Mrs. Finuiel and then will be on our way?” I said it as a question rather than an order. I was out of practice.

I had selected an elderly, widowed neighbor for godmother. I was not sure of the protocol for such things, being an American and not having been raised in the Anglican faith. I had asked as many detailed questions of the staff as I had dared. I was sure to make major gaffes throughout this process, but with such a small party, hopefully it would not matter. Or at least not would not be so severe as to be remembered. I could rewrite the history later if needed.

We had kept to ourselves since arriving in the town and while I had a few acquaintances, there was no one that I had felt close enough to bring into the family so to speak. So frail old Mrs. Fenuiel, it was. She would not be long for this world anyway.


The carriage shook as the driver pulled up the reigns on our arrival at the Finuiel cottage. The old woman was waiting by the gate. Her slight frame was wrapped in a bright red woolen shawl and she stooped precariously over her cane. Her upper back curved over like the neck of a graceful swan but as a consequence made looking upwards to the heavens overhead virtually impossible.

She was helped into the carriage, grunting with each movement until she too was settled.

Then we were on our way.

There was no need for a godfather, truly. We women were self sufficient after all, weren’t we?

The parish church was nearby and we passed a pleasant, though brief ride discussing the recent damp weather and how it had affected Mrs. Finuiel’s rheumatism. The horses’ hooves beat out a happy staccato as we chatted. We were blessed to finally have bright rays of sunshine today as it had been dreary and overcast for almost an fortnight prior.

“Here you go now, miss…”

I alighted from the carriage.

Brushing the back of my skirt as I resettled my petticoat and the caged crinoline that was now the fashion, I could feel the cold damp spot. Urine had soaked through on the ride over. I surreptitiously patted to see how big the stain was. About the size of a fist. Curse it all.

Really? I must attend my daughter’s christening with a wet urine spot on my derrière?

It could not be helped. If I ignored it, surely no one else would call attention to it?

With a now sleeping baby snuggled in blankets in my left arm, I helped the almost godmother into the church on my right arm.

The Reverand Drummond stood by the baptismal font, fingers steepled. He had been left waiting. He smiled gently at me anyway.

I handed over the slip of paper upon which I had written the selected name.

He eyes moved over the letters I had written, then looked up at me and nodded solemnly. In short order Anne was bellowing out her displeasure over waking to the sensation of ice cold water running over her tender scalp.

Holy water or not, it was all the same to her.

After the brief ceremony I turned and retreated down the church aisle, again with Anne in one arm and Mrs. Finuiel on the other. Surely the Reverend saw the now stained fabric of my formerly beautiful new dress. Deep rose colored silk. I wondered if he understood.

Chapter Sixty-Four: Victorious


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.


“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.


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.


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 Sixty-Three: A Name


Sleep would not come. Not on the bed. Nor in the chair. Or on the couch. Each night, I lay awake.

Days passed slowly.

I would sit for hours at my writing table, blank sheets of paper laid out before me, pen in hand. No words came.

My body ached after only a few minutes in any position. Comfort could not be found anywhere and the fatigue was overwhelming at times.

Simply breathing was a chore, even when sitting quietly.

I cannot go on another day in this way!

Twinges of pain would pass through my abdomen, the surface becoming rock hard for a few seconds.


Hello, mamma! I am here, still, waiting…

Anxiously I paced. Up and down the dirt road, around the kitchen.

I read the Biblical story of Samuel’s mother over and over, searching for clues in her dedication and making my own bargains with God.

Each passing day made me more frantic. I could not feel contrite. I could not wish away my time with Nathaniel. I cherished every single moment. No shame.

I was all the more damned.

I will attend church with him every Sunday, rain or shine. I give my word. I will encourage him to join the priesthood. Just let me keep him. Please.

At the same time that I made my bargains there was an unspoken sense of the inconvenience that a deity presented.

This God was the reason I had to bargain in the first place. God had made laws. I had broken them. Hence Levi’s death and my own suffering. Now here I stood, swollen and uncomfortable, pleading for mercy. Mercy I would not have to ask for if this God did not exist.

This God who killed my first baby.

My heart wished silently for God to be dead, but I would not allow my mind to complete the thought lest it be heard by eternal ears and ruin my chances at happiness.

At the edge of town I had rented this small cottage. Nondescript, soft gray stone. A modest garden that would be alive with color come spring. It was already furnished with musty linens and worn upholstery. It would make a reasonable home.

There was a midwife. She was a middle aged woman who dressed plainly. Her dark hair was streaked with large swaths of silver and she was missing a fair number of teeth when she grinned. The syncopation of her smile served to undermine confidence on some level but she was well respected by the local villagers and I resolved to trust her.

“This baby is my one tie to my late husband. If I lose the baby, I lose him.” I explained over a cup of tea that I had been recently widowed and had come here searching for a fresh start.

“Bless you, child!” She patted my arm, tears showing on her careworn cheeks. She shook her head. “God will bless you, I know it.”

“Thank you.” I patted her arm back solemnly, nodding, hoping that she was right. The baby shifted. The movement was reassuring.

A maid and a cook were found. Both young. Sisters, in fact. They were silly girls who had not yet been jaded by the realities of their existence. Slim and lithe and full of joy, their mousy brown hair was generally unkempt and their aprons frayed, but they were hard workers and their laughter brought light to an otherwise dismal existence.

The dark wooden crib sat in the floor by the fire. Each night I held the christening gown in my lap that I had bought for Levi those years ago. A blanket I had purchased in London lay folded in the crib, waiting. The silver rattle glowed in the light of the fire in the grate.

A name. I needed a name for him.


The time was coming. Soon.

Chapter Sixty-Two: Stealing Away

The train lurched to a stop at the Bristol station, the brakes giving their customary screech in protest. It woke me up from the semi-trancelike state that I had been in for the past half hour. I looked out the window at the pillars that held up the roof of the station overhead, my face close enough to the glass that it quickly fogged up, obscuring my view.

“…and so I told him to just leave it to me…” Her lips did not stop moving, even for a breath it seemed.

The middle aged woman sitting before me had not stopped talking since we had left Paddington station. Her hands had remained folded in the lap of deep burgundy traveling dress. This had been disconcerting. Someone who talked that much and with that degree of animation, typically used their hands. I had stared at her, trying not to seem rude, but I had been irritated that I could not think my own thoughts. Fortunately she had not required much beyond the occasional nod or gasp to feel I was engaged.

Excusing myself, I stood to stretch my legs, stepping onto the platform to walk a bit before continuing the journey to Cardiff, in Wales. I could still hear the woman talking to herself behind me on the train car.

I glanced around quickly, looking for recognition on any nearby faces. Fear gripped me, momentarily as I surveyed the crowd.

I was aware of the life growing inside of me, the fullness there. My precious gift. Only I knew the secret that I carried with me.

At any moment, it could be gone, this second chance. Miscarriage. Malformation. Still birth.

My sweet baby Levi.

This could be the same. Please do not let this one be the same. I remembered Levi’s cleft lips searching for something to eat, his intestines peristalsing in my hands outside of his little body. He had wanted to live but he had not been given a chance. All I could do was helplessly love him.

I wanted to pray, to beg, but I was not sure I had the right to make such requests of God at this point… even if I wanted to so desperately. Would God hear me? Would God care? Did he understand my loneliness and my sadness?

Only time would tell.

I wore the brooch with Nathaniel’s hair and words every day. It was almost a superstition now, a belief that this, and somehow he, would somehow protect me and protect the baby I carried. The piece had turned out beautifully. The jeweler had produced quality work, true to his word.

A stranger, a man, nodded at me as I passed. No one else minded me as I walked up and down the covered platform. I recognized no one and so relaxed somewhat, deliberately slowing my pace.

I had selected Cardiff due to its rapid growth. With so much flux in the population, there would be little attention paid to me, I hoped. I would tell everyone that my husband had died of typhus after returning from the war, thus explaining the pregnancy and my loneliness. Once I had delivered, I would move on elsewhere, and then move again, putting as much distance between me and any question of my character as I possibly could.

The enormity of everything was not lost upon me. On some level I was stealing this child. I struggled with the urge to let Nathaniel know, I did not want to do this alone, but in the end what would that accomplish? Only more heartache for everyone. How could he be expected to choose between two families? And what if he tried to take this child from me? I would be destroyed. No, this was a secret I must bear alone.

The train whistle blew, startling me… piercing my thoughts.

Sweeping the stray wisps of hair back under my bonnet, I carefully climbed back into the car and took my seat, steeling myself for the onslaught of words.

Chapter Thirty-Three: Wasting

“Please, William.”

We were standing in the dark dining room.  Dim light streamed in through the windows, a full moon’s blessing.  The candelabra cast fingerlike shadows across the polished tabletop. I took his hand.

I wanted him to come to me this night. 

“No.  I am sorry.” He stiffened.  “No.”  He shook his head, never making eye contact.  His breathing was heavy, deliberate.

I needed to show him love, to say thank you. It was the only way that I knew how…physically, offering my body to him. It was the one thing I knew that he wanted the most. He had been devoted and steadfast and strong, always my constant.  Even so, I had watched as he had lost weight, seemingly eaten away from the inside as baby Levi had died, the funeral, even now months later.

Please?”  I begged quietly.

“What if it happens again, Evelyn?”

I had no answer.  I could not tell him that Levi was not his, that he could not blame himself.  That Levi was my burden of conscience.  I lacked the courage.  Everything that I had done to this point had lacked courage and this instance was no different. He was afraid to touch me.

We parted ways; he to his room and me to mine. 

Chapter Thirty-Two: Payment

The pain washed over me and I could feel my insides splitting in two, tearing from the inside out.  I could not help but cry out.  There was no one in Cambridge or Boston that was willing to administer obstetrical anesthesia, despite Nathaniel’s lecture and the seemingly enthusiastic response.  The pain was more intense than I had ever imagined.  I was compelled to push over and over again.  Finally, the pain stopped.

There was a slurping gurgle and feeble cry and a hushed silence fell over the room.  By the time I was able to register my surroundings again, I saw the look of horror on the doctor’s face as he looked at my baby.  Fortunately, Dr. Quincy did not lower himself to the practice of obstetrics and we had enlisted the services of a Dr. Farber.  He was personable and reassuring and had assured me that things would go well.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked quietly.

There was no answer.

“IS IT A BOY OR A GIRL?”  I demanded.

“A…a boy,” the doctor finally replied.  Seeming to regain his senses, he quickly wrapped the baby up in a sheet and passed him off to Hannah, one of the maids who stared wide eyed at the child.  He nodded at her, motioning to dismiss her.  She made a few hesitating steps toward the door of the chamber.

“Wait!”  I said.  She stopped but did not turn.  

“Go,” the doctor said quietly, firmly.

“Let me see my baby.”  I was surprised by the level of force in my voice.  When no one moved and no one responded, indignation swelled up within.

“LET ME SEE MY BABY!” Hannah jumped as she heard my raised voice.  She slowly turned, compelled by a mother’s demand, but her eyes were pleading with me to let her take him away.  At that moment he began to cry, loud mournful wails.  I could see a little fist peak out from the blood smeared white sheeting.

Slowly, Hannah crept back across the room to my side and placed my son in my arms.  He stopped crying within seconds.  I pulled back the folds of the sheeting, my heart racing.  My breath caught in my chest as I stared at him.

He was beautiful. 

“Hello, Levi,” I whispered.  “Look at mommy.”

But I knew he could not see me.  His fused eyelids covered sunken holes where his eyes should have been.  His upper lip was missing as was the roof of his mouth and his nose was reduced to a fleshy mass.  I unwrapped him carefully.  There was a large translucent sac containing his intestines that was attached to his umbilical chord.  There was even an extra finger on his left hand. Who knew what else was wrong inside.  I sighed a breath of relief.  All of my fears for this child had come true…all except for the worst.  The most horrible thing I could imagine was that he would have something wrong with him that would keep me from loving him.  But I realized at that moment that would have been impossible. 

“He will not live long,” the doctor said flatly.

“How long?”  I asked.

“A few hours, perhaps.”

“I see.”  I wrapped him up again and held him.  “How do I feed him?”

“You cannot successfully.  His cleft lip and palate will prevent it.”

I felt another urge to push and the doctor delivered the placenta, afterward performing an exceedingly uncomfortable uterine massage to increase the cramping of the uterus and prevent further bleeding.

Levi was strong.  His color was pink.  He had a good cry.  I hoped for his sake that this would be quick, but I knew somewhere inside that it would not be.

“Where is William?”  I asked.  It was not long before he was at my side and the rest of the room emptied.          

“I am not sure I can do this,” he said as he examined the child he thought was his son. His ragged breath was tearing through his chest and a fit of coughing overwhelmed him.   I caught a glimpse of a fleck of bright red blood on his handkerchief, but I was unable to process the meaning.

“Please.  I need you.”  He caught his breath.  His eyes welled and overflowed as he put his arms around Levi and around me, wracked by silent sobs.  I could not help but cry out loud, crying for all of us.

It dragged on for three days.  It was supposed to be easier than this.  The doctor had said it would just take a few hours and I hated him for being wrong.  I prayed for God to take little Levi, begged Him to ease his suffering and ours.  There were times when his breath came fast and erratic and times when he stopped breathing altogether.  His skin would take on a bluish cast, then pink up again.  He always struggled back.  At times, he would seem hungry, fussing, and I would spoon feed him sugar water which choked him and never really seemed to help anyone but me.  My breasts ached, full, wanting him to suckle.  But he could not. 

William was always there, unfailing in his devotion.  I grew to love him during those days.  Perhaps not the romantic love he deserved, but a love that grew out of friendship and respect nonetheless. 

The end came at last after a seizure.  His little fists curled up tight and never let go.  His lungs filled only in gasps, strange whimpering sounds escaped from his lips.  Finally his breathing stopped and his skin turned first purple and then ashen.  He was gone.

It was a tragedy, and I cried and mourned as I had not cried or mourned before.  It seemed such a slap in the face that in the midst of this tragedy, this catastrophic event that would forever change our entire lives, the world continued on.  I wanted some recognition of the pain I was feeling, some hiccup in the routine of daily life around me.  But there was none.  The sun continued to rise and then fall.  Business went on as always.  Well meaning people told me that God needed a little angel in heaven but I wanted to scream at them that God could create any angels that he wanted, he did not have to rob me of mine.  He was God, wasn’t he?  Other people, including our pastor, told me that I must have some terrible sin in my life to have God allow this to happen, that I must figure out what that sin was and then repent of it in order to ensure that it never happened again.  I hated them, too.  I could not accept a God that would punish the innocent. 

Love had created Levi, right or wrong.  How could he be a punishment? 

Chapter Thirty-One: Confinement

Time moved on.  I had learned from the death of my father and my mother that this was always the case. It is amazing how quickly the mind deconstructs and reconstructs events to preserve a degree of self.  I spent several days in self loathing before my conscience found a way to liberate me:  It simply stopped thinking about the fact of the infidelity.  Rather, I managed to wrap that fact into a tiny kernel and bury it into a narrow recess, glued shut to prevent escape.

In the weeks that followed, William and I attended several dinner parties and balls.  I learned quickly the great skill my mother had displayed so well, acting.  I planned out meals, ran the household, made social calls.  I read Vanity Fair by Thackeray and A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift.  It was difficult to remain focused on the words and for the most part, I simply stared fixedly at the pages, letting my mind wander to Nathanial in some form or another.   I would have been bored senseless had I not had my fantasies to occupy my mind.  Days passed one by one.  I ventured out one day along the river bed but stopped short of the woods themselves, afraid that entering that place without him would destroy the mystical spell of the memory, replacing it with empty ordinariness.

The sickness came on suddenly one morning.  The nausea washed over me, swelling in waves as I vomited over and over again, heaving while kneeling over the chamber pot.  Each day it was the same.  I found myself praying that God would heal me or take my life.  I did not care which, so long as it was quick.  It went on for days.  No fevers.  Just the overwhelming nausea.  I could hold nothing down it seemed.  The housekeeper made chamomile teas and poultices.  They did not help.  She brought magnesia in milk, and magnesia in tincture of Columba with distilled peppermint water.  It was no help.  Lemon juice in water.  No help.  William was beside himself.  Like the man he was, he needed to fix whatever was wrong.  But he could not.  More days passed.  The doctor was called.

Dr. Edward Quince was a tiny, wizened old man with spectacles that he never actually looked through, only over.  His dour face made it appear that he had been sucking on the fruit which also bore his name.  He never smiled, but rather spoke with a high pitched voice that was punctuated by a series of characteristic, “Hmmm’s.”  Sometimes it was a question:  “Hmmmm?”  Sometimes it was a long, drawn out, puzzled sound that signified pondering:  “Hmmmmmm….”  Often it was accompanied by an uncomfortable clearing of the throat, meant to bridge the silence after an awkward question to a female patient:  “Hrummmmph!”

Never one to actually examine a patient, Dr. Quince prided himself on diagnoses by history alone.  This seems an odd thing now, but the man was educated in the time when stethoscopes were unheard of, and he regarded them with suspicion.  One might examine the urine or feces, but touching a patient was considered unnecessary.  Certainly to touch a woman was not only unnecessary, it was also indelicate.

Upon entering my chamber, escorted by William, Dr. Quince approached my bed and made his uncomfortable, “Hrummmmph!” followed by a little cough.  He walked around me, then stopped.

“How long?” he asked.  The question was addressed to William, as if I were not actually in the room and able to speak for myself.  Perhaps it was his way of acknowledging that I did not feel well and may not wish to answer?  I resolved to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Uh, twelve…fourteen days…?”

“Hmmmm….  I see.”  He walked around the bed to the other side.

“When was her last menses?”  He was again looking at William.

“Oh!  Well, I….uh, I….not sure….really,” he trailed off, then shrugged.

“Hrummmmph!”  He stood waiting expectantly.  “In that case, please ask her, sir.”

Before William could speak, I answered.  “Please tell the good doctor that I am NOT with child.  If he cannot actually give me a workable diagnosis and something that can help, he may leave.”

Dr. Edward Quincy slowly turned his disdainful gaze upon me, peering through squinted eyes over his lenses.  There was a long silence.  At long last he addressed me.

“Madame, if you do not wish to accept the inevitable, then fine.  Hmmm?  We will discuss that no further.  In lieu of an acceptable diagnosis, let us focus on curing your symptom of hyperemesis.  That is agreeable, is it not?”  He turned to William.  “She will need leeches applied to her lower abdomen and laudanum.”

Leeches have largely gone out of fashion now.  I cannot describe the sensation of having six leeches sucking away on my abdomen until they gorged themselves and fell off, sated.  There was no pain or sucking sensation, merely an awareness of their slimy presence.  The laudanum doses left me sedated, unable to feel nausea because I was unable to register the feeling…or anything else for that matter.  I could not focus my vision to read.  I could do nothing but lie in bed in a stupor sipping broths.  I lost two weeks like this until finally it was felt safe to take away the opiate.  My dose was decreased gradually until at last I emerged from the fog.  William had insisted on sitting with me almost exclusively.  He had kept me dosed, fed, and bathed.  I vaguely remembered his voice reading aloud to me as I drifted in and out of consciousness, though I cannot remember what words he read.

Had the nausea left me?  Yes, for the most part.  Now and again I felt the same queasiness creeping up, but managed to push it back somehow.  I was reluctant to admit that I felt better.  Dr. Quince had succeeded in that, even if he had been wrong about pregnancy.  My eyes were sunken.  I had lost a considerable amount of weight and what little muscle I had was largely wasted away.  But…I was still living.

I slowly resumed my activities managing the household, gradually regaining strength and weight.  The month of December arrived cold and icy, and with it came Christmas.  We held our typical celebration, complete with roast goose, oyster stuffing, figgy pudding, and even a tree decorated with nuts and sweetmeats.  This was the one time of year that I felt a hollow realization of the emptiness of our lives without children, for what is Christmas and Saint Nicholas without children?  It had been over five years that William and I had been married.  I knew the lack of children had been whispered about extensively.  But I was not ready.  I was not ready.

Hogmanay would have been celebrated next had we been in Scotland.  William missed its traditions.  He sang Auld Lang Syne at every opportunity.  If he could have gotten away with it, he would have burned juniper branches throughout the house until we all choked to death, then had all of the windows thrown open to allow in the fresh, cold air of the new year.   A new beginning.

After the new year, I felt a fluttering deep within.  At first I thought that it was constipation or gas.  But more and more it occurred until at last I could no longer ignore it.  The nausea, the painful breasts, the swelling abdomen.  The truth dawned like a horror.

I had a tumor.

I kept it secret from William for a few more weeks, until I could no longer hide my increasing girth.  When I confided my fears to him, William called again for Dr. Quince and again the dour faced man looked over his wire rimmed spectacles at me and “Hmmmm’d,” as he circled my chaise.  He stopped and looked across me to William.

“Sir, she is not dying from a tumor.

“From what then?”  William asked.  The fear had not left his face.

“She is not dying at all.”

“Not dying?”  He sounded hopeful.

“Hmmmm…”  The doctor nodded thoughtfully.  “She is with child.”

There was silence.  William and I stared at each other.  He took my hand.

“Impossible,” I said.

“Are you certain?”  William smiled.

“Most certain.”

“Impossible!” I said again.

We had been married for years with regular encounters in my bedroom, and had no children to show for it.  The old women had stopped asking when I would become pregnant, instead a look of pity washed over their faces whenever they looked upon me.  They, and I, had assumed that it would never happen, a fact that had allowed me much comfort in the end even as it brought them a subject of scornful gossip.

Dr. Quince turned his gaze upon me once more.  His spectacles slid further down his nose as he did so.

“Hmmm.”  He snorted.  “You will remember, madam, that I said as much a number of months ago.”  He paused to let that sink in.  “Your confinement will be in early May.”  It was said with finality, like a sentence of death.  I felt William squeeze my hand, lingering there, then he let go and led the doctor out.  He returned some minutes later.

“Evelyn?”  He put his hand on my shoulder then sat down next to me.

I felt panic welling up from within.  If this were something that I could run from, I would be running, running fast and hard.  Doing the calculations in my head it was clear that I had conceived in August.  In August!

“Is it so bad to have a child that you would rather have a tumor?”  There was laughter in his eyes.

“Please do not make fun of me, William.  I am afraid.”  And I was.  I was terrified.  I had seen so much death and suffering attached to childbirth.   Why would it be any different for me?  And, there was the fear, or was it hope, that this was not William’s child after all.

The days and weeks passed.  There was something wrong.  I could feel it.  I heard women speak of their baby’s movements, and this baby did not move as I had expected.  The nausea never left completely.  I had a deep set and abiding fear that dwelled within me.  I was told that this was normal, that having a child changed your outlook and created fears that you never knew existed.  But this was different.  I knew it.

My ankles and fingers swelled.  I was a bloated whale and it seemed my girth was even greater than I was expecting and there were murmurs about the possibility of twins.  Dark patches appeared across my swollen face, affectionately referred to by older women as the “pregnancy mask”.  When I looked in the mirror, I was horrified by what I saw.  And the fear grew.

For William, it was as if a light had been switched on.  As if becoming a father was the one thing that God had set him on this earth to do.  He made sure that I wanted for nothing, doting on me to the point of smothering suffocation.  He ensured that the nursery was appointed with the best that money could buy…a lovely bassinet, toys, a nurse. He was clearly filled with joy and anticipation and I worked hard to hide my trepidation from him.  Years of marriage, however, had allowed him to understand every subtle nuance of emotion from me, and ultimately I am afraid, I was unable to conceal the truth sufficiently.  Still, he was kind enough not to speak to me about it, rather working to distract me from my anxieties.  That intense need that men have to fix everything and make it right, often times only serves to make things worse.  It was his way of coping, so I bore it silently.

Chapter Nineteen: A Proposal of Another Kind

My bleeding did come, eventually, when I was almost driven mad with fear. I had begged God, pleaded with Him, bargained with Him.  I sang silent songs of rejoicing for days after and my heart soared with delight and freedom.  Dues had been paid, God and the powers were sated.  I could move on with my life and almost try to forget that night.  Maybe.

Mr. Aspern continued to court me throughout the remaining few months.  My mother was proud of the reserve and decorum I maintained in public with him, after my earlier dealings.  I took to shutting her out of my heart and my life, building walls that I had no intention of ever taking down.  I did it gradually, almost imperceptibly, but I was aware that she knew and understood, even if she was not entirely pleased.

The fact was, however, that I could not show affection to any other man, even if I had felt it, when there was a possibility of that action returning somehow to the eyes or ears of Nathaniel.  What if he were still here in Edinburgh?  Indeed, I searched for his face everywhere, hoping that he would rescue me at any minute.  How could he profess love and then disappear?  Perhaps his absence had allowed me to grant him sainthood, to rewrite what little history we had together?

When the proposal came, I was not entirely prepared.  How is that, you may wonder?  It is something that is expected a normal course of courting, and yet, I had chosen to ignore it as an eventuality.  I had enjoyed the attention, it was preferable to being alone, but I had not allowed myself to spend much time pondering a marriage proposal.  Who wants to spend time thinking on something undesirable?

William had requested a walk with me in the Princes Street Gardens on a bright August Sunday afternoon.  The gardens had been built in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle over 20 years ago after the filling in of the Nor Loch, a former lake that had become a cesspool of waste and filth as the city had grown.  Although it had been drained in the 1750’s, it had not been filled in with earth and had consistently threatened to return to its former state.  Now, however, it was a lush green space with winding pathways.  It was a warm day, but was much cooler in the stippled shadows of the trees.  We had stopped for a moment beneath a particularly large, gnarled oak with twisted branches that dipped to the ground in a strangely gracious way.  It must have been there long before the park was built, as the surrounding trees were much younger.  After a furtive glance to assure himself that no one was looking, he took my hand and held it to his chest.  He would not have dared to act so familiar had we not been partially hidden from view by foliage.

“Ms. Douglas,” he announced.  He cleared his throat officially, a look of discomfort crossing his face.  My heart began to pound, please no, no, no…

“Yes, Mr. Aspern?” I smiled ever so slightly at him, trying not to make eye contact, willing myself to maintain composure.  I tried to take a step forward, hoping to continue walking and thus distract him from what was to follow, however he stood in my way and did not budge.  He took a deep breath.

“I have not dreamed that I would ever meet a woman as accomplished as I have found you to be.  I have spent my life thinking of ladies more as entertainment than as a worthy partner.  That fact alone makes you even more beautiful to my eyes and more dear to my heart than you could ever imagine.  However, I recognize that there is much more to you and I am intrigued, fascinated.  It will take me years to know you completely.  I hope that you have something in your heart for me because I have concluded that I myself could not go on through the rest of my life without you by my side.”  His eyes searched mine imploringly, hopefully.

“What are you saying, Mr. Aspern?”  My nervous heart was attempting to beat itself out of my chest.  It was cruel of me to toy with him in this way, to force him to spell it out, but I did it anyway.  He cleared his throat again.

“I am asking you to marry me…”

“I see.”

We stood there like that, under the tree, with time paused in the way that seems to make the slightest hesitation seem like an eternity.  My mind ticked through the pros and cons, weighing the consequences of a “yes” or “no”.  Was I not in love with Nathaniel Brierly?  What was my future going to entail if I were not married?  I had no family upon which to rely for support if my father were to die.  I could not, as a woman, run any sort of business in my father’s place.  I would end up making hats in some milliner’s shop somewhere, living in poverty.

Should I wait, in the name of love, for Mr. Brierly?  What if his leaving was not truly out of concern for me, but rather because of his stronger love for someone else?  If he truly had loved me, wouldn’t he want me cared for, even if he could not provide for it himself?  Yes, he had said that hadn’t he?  Why had I not fought him harder?  Why had I turned and walked away from him when he told me to go?  What if it had only been a test?  If I had only refused, he would have relented and we would be together right now.  Or, if not a test, but he had still loved me, would it really have made a difference for me to try to fight it out with him?  Could I ever bend him to my will?  No.  That was part of his charm.  I held no power over his thoughts, feelings, actions…not to change them at any rate.

If I say yes to this man and tie myself to him forever, do I tell him the honest truth?  That I cannot love him completely?  At least not right now?  Is that kind of cruelty better than the cruelty that comes from playing charades every night in order to make him believe that I love him?  Is it selfish to marry him myself and rob him of a match with a woman who would truly care for him?  Can I grow to love him that way?  I looked carefully at this man before me.  I could not imagine making children with him.  I was not sure that there was any other man alive for whom I would suffer in that way in order to create offspring, even if that suffering were to be my salvation in God’s eyes as the priest had pronounced from the podium several Sundays ago.

“I must ask that you allow me some time to consider your proposal, Mr. Aspern.”  I squeezed his hand quickly and then tried to pull my hand away, but failed.  He held it even tighter.  He stared at me intently.  His mouth opened as if he were about to say something, but after a hesitation, he promptly closed it.  He was silent for what seemed like an eternity.

“Alright, then,” he replied finally.  A look of pain crossed his face and at that moment, I ached for him.  I knew what he was feeling.

“Would you please escort me home, Mr. Aspern?”

“Certainly,” he nodded, curtly.  He placed my hand on his arm and we turned toward home.  In kindness, I left it there.

We began back down the path, looking toward Edinburgh Castle on top of its rocky, volcanic crag and walked together in stony silence ourselves, nodding at the occasional family or couple as they passed.

“Tell me something,” I said.

“Yes?” he replied.

“Why do you want a wife who is spoiled by knowledge and her own opinions?”

“I would not say that a woman is spoiled by those things.”

“Why not, Mr. Aspern?”

“When a woman is educated as you have been, the world you are in becomes too small for you.  You can think and judge for yourself the justness of the role you have been given.  One of two things happens in those women. They become angry and embittered or they are ruled by grace and profound dignity.  You are the latter.  It takes great control and presence of mind to make it appear that you do not care that the world is unjust when you know so well that it is.”

His words made my breath catch in my chest.  How did this man know me when I had so pointedly not told him anything that had really mattered to me?  I felt my face flush.  I had spent much time arguing and debating with him, even about silly, unimportant things just to argue.

“So, in short, it is your strength that I admire most of all.”

We went on in silence for some distance.

“I am not all that you think I am,” I said softly.

“On the contrary, I believe that you are.”

“I am not perfection.”

“You misunderstand me, then.  I do not believe you to be perfect, Ms. Douglas.  I believe that you are an extraordinary young woman who has demonstrated her ability to live well, beyond her flaws.”

The last part of our trek was made wordlessly.  As we mounted the white stone steps at the front door, William once again took my hand, this time bowing slightly as he pressed my fingertips to his lips.  Then, he turned to leave.  I was struck at that moment with a certain urgency.  I needed to make sure that he understood what he was asking for.

“Wait, Mr. Aspern.”  I reach out my hand to grab the sleeve of his coat. Speaking of what I was about to say to someone like this was a terrible risk, but I had to make myself plain on this one point before I could ever agree.

He turned back, a single brow arched quizzically.  “Yes?”

“You should know… You should know that I am terrified of having children.  Terrified.  I know that that is what is expected of me…as…as a wife.  But I must tell you that I am terrified.” Terrified of the pain. Terrified of the loss. Terrified of that kind of love.

He nodded quietly, though his face betrayed his discomfort.  He put his hand firmly on top of mine as it rested on his sleeve.  I could see him weighing, balancing the choices.  Was I worth enough to him to agree to this?  “There are ways to avoid pregnancy.  I give you my word that if you choose me, you will not be pressured or forced.  There will be no children unless you are ready.”

He patted my hand, then lifted it off of his arm, kissed the fingers again, then turned back to the street and started down the steps.

I entered the house, pulling off my bonnet.

“Ah, Ms. Evelyn!” Agness took the hat from my hands, squinting at me suspiciously. “You look disconcerted, Miss.”

“I am,” I admitted.  “Mr. Aspern proposed marriage this afternoon.”

“And how are we feeling about this?” she asked, her head tilted inquisitively.  I don’t believe she expected an answer so much as she wanted to read my face.  She carried the bonnet away as I started up the stairs to my room.

“Strangely, I am feeling at peace,” I replied, not for her ears.  Agnes would be on her way to my mother now.

This man was not simply a love struck puppy, with stars in his eyes and pathetic, romantic drivel to spout.  I had to respect his integrity, his honestly.  There were depths to him that had not yet been plumbed.  He was not particularly handsome.He was not gregarious and outgoing.  He did not seem particularly driven to achieve any greatness at all.  Still, if I must marry, this seems a safe alternative.  He had a fair income, though no title to speak of.  Yet in Massachusetts would Scottish title matter any whit?  Reasonably speaking, Father would like him as he was level headed and had few permanent ties that would keep him here.  Furthermore, Mr. Aspern was not the philandering type.  I would not have to worry about his fidelity.  I could do worse, much worse.

By the time I had reached the topmost stair, I had virtually made my decision.  I entered my room and settled myself at my writing desk.  Should I discuss it with mother first?  No.  I opened the ink jar and sat quietly for a few minutes, pen in hand.

Agnes appeared, asking if I required assistance with my clothing.  When I told her no, she removed a few spoiled flowers from the vase on the mantle, and excused herself.  I pulled out a sheet of crisp white paper.  I could hear the noise of the street through the open windows, the clatter of carriage wheels and horses’ hooves on the pavement below.  My hand was poised over the pristine white sheet before me, my future.  Was I acting too hastily, replying to Mr. Aspern so quickly?  And what of Nathanial Brierly?  It would always come back to him, I realized.  My whole life would always come back to him in one way or another.  I hated him for that.  Some part of me would always long for that excitement, that intensely romantic excitement that comes from being pursued by passion.

I looked up into my painted companion’s eyes.  I had always felt there had been a certain sadness in those eyes.  I had found through my questioning that she was Elizabeth MacKenzie the eldest daughter of the last owner of this house.  She had died in a train accident on her way back to Edinburgh almost five years previously.  She had never married, instead choosing to write novels under a male nom deplume for decades.  Her legacy was the power of words.  Would you think I was compromising myself?  Yes, I am certain that you would.  I took a deep breath and penned my answer.

8th August, 1847

My Dear William:

I was rather startled and yet honored by your proposal this afternoon.After carefulconsideration, I recognize that I must accept your offer.

I remain faithfully yours,

Evelyn Douglas

I folded the note carefully, placed it in an envelope, addressed it to Mr. Aspern and sealed it with wax.  I remained seated there with the note in my hand, feeling the breeze through the window.  My nerves were on edge.  Did every woman feel this uncertainty somewhere deep within them?  If I tie myself to this person, I am saying goodbye to Mr. Brierly forever.  I was exchanging the unknown potential for perfect bliss loving some conjured visage for something safe, hardly spectacular, and somehow less perfect.  Perhaps the imagination created dreams that could never be lived up to?  Perhaps adulthood was learning to accept that dreams were merely dreams, ephemeral wastes of time.  A woman longs to align herself with an extraordinary man, will sacrifice herself in order to do so.  Why?  To feel safe?  To belong to a cause?  Would Mr. Aspern’s clear devotion to me and acceptance of my psyche make up for my heart’s longing to be aligned with the extraordinary?  I could not know what my future would hold.  I only knew that this was the only option that remained before me.

Chapter Seventeen: Waiting

Truth be told, I could not just rush out, find Mr. Aspern, and demand to know about the inscription. Instead, I penned a brief letter to him.

Mr. Aspern,
I am most grateful for your attention to my mother during her party and for the gift of poetry, particularly given the interesting reputation of Mr. Burns. I look forward to discussing the poetry and your inscription in the near future.
Ms. Evelyn Douglas

Now, I would have to wait until he felt a decent amount of time had passed to allow for complete recovery from my illness.

Meanwhile, I was becoming more and more anxious as each day passed. Not because I was waiting for Mr. Aspern. More because I was waiting for my menses. I was never one to chart it faithfully, and I was left wondering exactly when it was due and if it did not come, how I would be able to weather the storm. I began pouring over the Mariceau book again, looking for some clue but found nothing new. Ordering the pills was out of the question.

When my first period had come almost two years ago, I had no idea what was happening to my body. My mother had chosen to protect me from any inkling, lest I should be driven mad by the knowledge. In her defense, this has been advised by the family physician, as I discovered later. But why she thought watching parturition would be fine but knowing about my own menstruation was not, I will never comprehend. Granted, many physicians believed that the menstrual flow was tied to a woman’s psyche and any disruption during that time could result in psychosis. In fact, bathing was discouraged lest the young woman take cold and end up insane.

When I began bleeding, it started with uncomfortable cramping and then I noticed the dark stains on my drawers. At first I was worried that I was pregnant. But I did not have a belly. How could that be possible?

I realized then that I was dying. The icy grip of death was on my shoulder. It would be a beautiful death, I decided. I began fantasizing about the poignant moments I would share with my mother and father as the life ebbed from my poor body and I eagerly waited for further signs that the end was nigh. Those signs did not come.

Afraid to tell anyone quite yet, in case I was wrong, I began staunching the flow with rags I stole from the laundry. I took the soiled cloths to the field and hid them beneath rocks. Things went on like this for several days until one morning I awoke to realize that I had stained my nightgown and bed sheets. Those would be impossible to hide.

I sought out the laundress, a broad, red faced but kind hearted old woman and begged her to help me. She gasped, a hand coming up to her mouth. With fear in her eyes, she dashed off without even uttering a word.

Shortly, I was summoned to an audience with my mother. The laundress, her large nose even redder than usual, had been crying when she appeared to retrieve me. “Your mother would like a few words with you, Miss Evie.” I followed her with trepidation.

As I entered the drawing room, I observed my mother perched on the edge of the sofa, ensconced in the opulent room surrounded with velvet cushions and silk drapery. The bright patterns of the fabrics clashed with the scrolled wallpaper, the effect was always dizzying and disorienting. She was visibly shaken, dabbing at her eyes with a delicate lace handkerchief. When she caught sight of me, she quickly tried to compose herself, hiding the delicate square beneath the folds of her skirt.

As I approached my mother the laundress let out a small sob behind me. After a stern look from my mother, she whispered an apology, then she softly slid the pocket doors closed.

I hesitated.

“Come here, dear!” My mother beckoned to me, sadly. It was then that I realized that I did not want to die. I wanted to live. When I did not move, she stood, and drew me to her heaving bosom. I stood there awkwardly in her embrace as she cried, not sure what I should do. Console her? I am so sorry, Mother! I am sure I will not suffer long… Make a run for it? Her grip on me would prevent that.

At long last, she relaxed and held me out at arms length by my shoulders. Her tear stained face was contorted and dread filled my soul as I awaited the pronouncement of my fate.

“My little girl is growing up…”

I stood there in shock. At first relieved, then embarrassed, then angry that I had wasted so much time convinced of my demise…I wanted to cry, but if this was a rite of passage to womanhood, I did not feel I was allowed tears like that any longer. I wanted to ask questions, but I was not sure that was allowed either. So I just stood there. Waiting.

“Lavinia will help you with the proper accoutrement…” she said once she had composed herself. She gave me one more brief hug, then patted me on the shoulder. And with that, I was dismissed.

I ran up to my room and sobbed into the pillow for a good ten minutes before Lavinia knocked softly on the door.

She was a tall beanpole of a young lady with blond hair, freckles and an easy smile. She served as lady’s maid to my mother. She showed me the pads that she made for my mother, showed me how to pin them into my drawers, warning me to take care last I move in such a way that I stuck myself. She told me stories of what her own mother had used…pieces of sheepskin, greased with lard on the smooth side to prevent leakage. It sounded ingenious but she assured me that the smell was less than desirable. She let me ask questions, without passing judgement.

And now, here I was, with more anxiety about not having the flow than I ever had at having it, even that first time. But now I did not have Lavinia, or anyone else, to shoulder the burden with me.

So, I waited.

Chapter Fourteen: Hospital

The next morning, I found my mother sitting alone in the dining room.  She had changed clothes.  She looked tired and much, much older than she had appeared last night.  The table was bare.  No food had been prepared.  I asked her how Emma had faired.

“She is as good as dead,” she said flatly.

I sank into a chair.

“The baby?” I asked.

She looked up at me, surprised.  “You knew?”

“Yes.”  She asked for no further explanation and I did not offer any.

“Where is she?”

“She is at the Royal Infirmary.”  She had a vacant stare.  I was not sure what that meant.  Did she now know the truth, or was it simply from exhaustion?  “They did not want to take her, saying servants should be cared for in the home of their employer.  But money…I had to pay money.  Then they said that she was with child…that she tried to kill the child.”

“Mother, that is not true!”  She turned tired eyes to me.  She knew. Even if she had not been told, she knew.

No more words passed between us that morning.  We sat in silence for maybe a quarter of an hour until I finally stood and took leave.  I dressed and asked John to take me to the infirmary.  The early morning chill caused me to shiver despite the cloak.  We took the carriage.  It had not yet been cleaned, there was blood on the cushion and a large spot on the floor.

This was my first experience at a hospital.  Generally, admissions only occurred on one day of the week.  However this being an emergency, Emma had been accepted once payment had been guaranteed. 

I was met with an unpleasant odor at the door of the imposing stone edifice.  I had smelled it once before in the anatomy theater, the smell of rotting flesh.  I could hear moans and screams.  Suffering.  I shuddered.  There were many, many wards and I was not sure how to find Emma.  I stopped a dour faced, dark haired woman in her 40’s dressed in a white apron with a starched white cap who seemed to be in charge and asked her where I could find Emma.  When she stared at me blankly, I told her that she had been brought in the night before with bleeding.  Awareness rose on her face, followed by disdain. 

“Come with me,” she said curtly, followed by “Quickly!” over her shoulder when I did not immediately follow her. 

I sprung into action and followed her up a set of stairs and around a corner.  She walked quickly.  I was out of breath by the time she stopped.  It opened upon a large ward full of women.  Four rows of beds.  The room was dark, the windows small.  Some women appeared almost dead.  Some were writhing in pain.  In the shadows of the far corner, I could see Emma.  When I arrived at her bedside, I could see that she, too, suffered.  She did not recognize me.  She was in pain, writhing, feverish.  I lifted the sheets (at least they were clean) and saw that she was still bleeding.  Fresh rags had been placed between her legs but they had been soaked through with bright red blood. 

“Can you give her something for the pain?” I asked the nurse.

“Whatever for?” She replied, dubious.

“For the pain!”  I did not like this woman.

“Madame, I do not know how you have made the acquaintance of this girl, but she has tried to rid herself of an unwanted pregnancy by artificial means and must therefore suffer the consequences to their fullest.  No laudanum, doctor’s orders.” 

I stood dumfounded.

“But she did no such thing!”

“She was bleeding profusely.  There is little doubt.  She is unmarried and young.  She is a servant and probably realized that she would be destitute.  She is sentenced to death by law, but God will exact the price before man.”  She seemed to relish this fact.

The woman in the next bed retched.  I grabbed the footboard to steady myself as I could feel bile rising into my own throat.  Recognizing that I may soon join in the vomiting, the woman hurriedly excused herself.  I took deep breaths, attempting to calm myself and looked around for a chair.  I found an unoccupied worn stool a few beds down and maneuvered it so that I could sit with Emma. 

A short, wiry man of about forty with black hair and a dark angry cloud that hung over him appeared at the entrance of the ward with an entourage of half a dozen nurses and orderlies and began making the rounds.  Sometimes he would percuss.  Sometimes he would use a foot long wooden tube at one ear, pressed to the chest or abdomen to listen to the heart or lungs.  Often, he raised his voice with profanity and one of the nurses would scurry off with a frightened look in her eye, returning a few moments later with an ointment or tincture.  I had not planned to stay long, but now resolved to wait until he had made his way to Emma.  She let out another agonizing groan and shifted in the bed, her eyes open but unseeing.

Forty-five minutes later, the doctor was at the retching woman’s bed.  Another round of profanity.  Another scurry.  After the appropriate medication had been administered, he turned and began to leave the ward.  The entourage followed.

Confused, I called out, “Excuse me!”  He stopped, paused as if considering, then slowly turned back to me.  Half a dozen frightened pairs of eyes turned to him.


“I…I beg your pardon.  Were you going to see her?”  I indicated Emma’s body.

“Certainly not!” He exclaimed indignantly.  The entourage winced.

I stood, dumbfounded.  Then realization dawned upon me.  “There is someone else that will be seeing her, then?”

“Absolutely not.”  He turned to go.

I felt the anger well up again.  I stood.  “And why not, sir?”

Without even turning to look me in the eye, he replied, “She should never have been admitted.  We only take treatable, lawful cases here.  She is not salvageable.”  He took a step.

“Has anyone examined her?  Or is everyone simply making assumptions of her clinical status based on suppositions about her private life?”

At that, he turned back to me, bristling.  “She did not have an abortion?  Who are you to turn her into a saint?  She is pregnant.  There is no father.  She is bleeding.  There is no more to be said on the matter.”

“She is employed by me!” 

He laughed at me, then.  Not a laugh of mirth, but rather a laugh of ridicule. “You are not but a few years older than she.  I highly doubt that you are solely responsible for her income.”

My father did this to her, sir.”  A look of shock crossed his face and then washed over the faces of the entourage.  My desire to be right, to win the argument, had clouded my judgment and it had just slipped out.  I clasped a hand to my mouth and cringed.  I could not undo it so I decided to drive the point home.  “She refused to get the abortion.”  No mention of who arranged it or why I would know.  “So, examine her for the love of God or I can assure you that YOU will be the one damned for eternity, not her!”  I wished the flames of hell to bore into him from my eyes and turn his worthless, tiny body into ash.

For whatever reason…perhaps it was my calling down divine condemnation upon his head…his face softened a bit.  He walked over to me, standing close enough that I could smell his unpleasant, fetid breath. 

“Fine,” he sighed. “I will examine her.” 

He began rolling up his sleeves and called for a fresh washbasin.  There was a scurry and one appeared.  He sat down on the stool I had vacated and lifted the bedsheet, placing his hands between Emma’s legs.  Without actually looking, he moved his hand and arm further up, exploring the area.  Her eyes registered her pain, but nothing more.  No embarrassment.  Nothing.  The doctor’s hand paused and the color drained from his face.  He withdrew, covered in blood, and stood to wash in the basin. 

“Well?” I demanded.

“She has a placenta previa.”  I knew what this meant.  I had watched another woman die while attending births with my mother.  The placenta grows over the lower portion of the uterus, covering the cervical opening and birth canal.  The only way to give birth with a complete previa is to tear through the placenta and most likely bleed to death.  There had been rare occasions that I had heard from the midwives of the placenta being delivered intact with the baby, but generally the medical attendant would try to push aside the placenta and turn the baby to put pressure on the placenta to prevent bleeding.  But Emma was far from term.  There would be no baby.  How Then could her life be saved?  “We could attempt a Cesarean, to remove the products of conception but the pain would be great and she would still likely not survive, particularly given the tremendous amount of blood loss she has already suffered.  A dilation and curettage would be impossible due to the position of the placenta.  And the fever…”  He toweled off and rolled down his sleeves.  “In short, there is nothing to be done but to make her comfortable.”

He took his leave more humbly this time, not that I could enjoy any satisfaction in that fact at this point.  At the very least, however, orders were given for treatment of her pain and it would now merely be a matter of time.  I stayed with her, holding her hand until it was over so she would not die alone in this place.