If given the choice of living as a young woman without an arm, I would choose dying.
What would my daughter wish? Would she choose life at all costs if she could speak?
I had the dubious benefit of knowledge of the world as it was. She would long to be loved but it would always remain unrequited. She would be unable to work or to support herself and how long would my fortune last? There were no relatives upon whom she could rely if something were to happen to me.
To amputate her arm would mean consigning her to utter, lifelong isolation. I could not do that.
Yet, I was not willing to give her up. If she died, I died.
We would fight, she and I.
I needed to gather the coneflowers I had seen growing in Mrs. Fenuiel’s garden. I was surprised when I recognized them, tall and pink, as I thought they only grew in America.
“Oh, those?” She shrugged when I asked about them. “The seed was a gift, sent from an old American friend years ago. I keep meaning to rip them out.” She shook her wrinkled, old head. “I hate that woman now.”
Get all of them!” I ordered, calling after the young maid as she left out the door. Mrs. Fenuiel would not mind, I was certain.
They did not grow as tall as those back home had, the more rainy climate likely did not agree with them. Still, they would serve their purpose I hoped. The pale pink flowers, stems, and roots were for an antiseptic paste I had seen used by the midwives back home as a child. Typically it was made from dried plants but we did not have that kind of time.
I set about readying what I would need.
A knife from the kitchen.
Linen torn into strips for bandages.
I laid Anne on blankets on the kitchen work table, exposing her red and bloated little arm. The older housekeeper held it still in case she moved. Quickly, I cut into the flesh over the site of the inoculation.
I wanted to finish this before the young girl returned with the flowers. She had a gentle spirit and was not cut out for such things. The housekeeper herself was looking pale.
I cut deeper, my hands shaking. Anne stirred slightly as a cloud of foul smelling purulence mixed with blood poured forth. Thankfully she did not scream.
I could not bear it if she had screamed.
I expressed as much of the pus as I could out of the small incision using my fingertips, then rinsed the area with warm water.
Once the maid returned with a large basket of the coneflowers, I rinsed several of them and ground them into a runny paste with the mortar and pestle. Scooping several spoonfuls out, I wrapped it into a wide strip of linen and laid it across her arm, binding it firmly into place, careful to not cut off the circulation.
Warm compresses were laid over that and changed out every 30 minutes as I held Anne in the rocking chair in the drawing room.
Fight like with like… heat for heat.
Every six hours I would change out the coneflower paste. Why six hours? I did not know. It felt right somehow.
In the heat of the moment I had not thought ahead. “Just pull them all!” I had said. Now as I sat waiting, hoping for my miracle, I considered how to store the flowers between paste preparations. Put them in water? Hang them from the kitchen rafters to dry? Leave them to wilt on the counter?
Hang them. Hang them all.
Even though she was not interested, I expressed milk from my aching, engorged breasts a few drops at a time into her mouth.
Two days of this.
Finally the maid could take no more and sent again for the Reverend Drummond, intending that he should give comfort in my daughter’s passing. He had been here once before two days ago, shortly after I cut open the abscess in her arm.
He had not offered peace.
He now entered the room and passed his hat and coat to the weary looking housekeeper, his boots clumping on the wooden floor loudly enough that I woke from a fitful dozing slumber.
Anne also stirred. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked up at me as if she knew that I was her mother.
Ignoring the fact that a man of God was also in the room, I bared a breast and smiled as she latched on.
My heart sang.
I looked up at the Reverend, full of joy.
He was scowling down at me, hate in his eyes.
“I.. I am sorry for exposing myself.” I stammered. But I did not mean it. My daughter came first. She needed fluids and sustenance.
“Either you brought the favor of the Lord down upon her and saved her life through a miracle or you called upon power from another, more sinister being.” The Reverend’s eyes narrowed. “I doubt your faith is such that it brought about a divine miracle.”
Truth be told, if the devil had shown up on my doorstep and asked for my soul in return for her life I would have given it for her gladly.
But he had not.
Nor had God.
I had saved her.
“Get out of my house,” I said.