Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1637: No Peace Beyond the Line: Chapter Twenty One

       Last updated: Monday, October 26, 2020 07:57 EDT

 


 

Oranjestad, St. Eustatia

    Anne Cathrine, daughter of King Christian IV by morganatic marriage (and so, not a princess) yawned, stretched, fended off the sunlight that eked in through the slight gap in the hurricane shutters. They were just slightly ajar, held there by an adjustable hook-and-eye that had been set just so.

    She smiled into the morning light. That had been done by her wonderful, kind, thoughtful, Eddie. Her war-hero, ducal, up-time machine-wizard Eddie. Her adoring, innocent, and — because of that — so very, very alluring Eddie.

    She sighed, let herself fall back on the same bed that had been theirs on Intrepid. She stretched her full length upon it, happy in her body, in the softness of the layers beneath her, and buried her face in the pillows which smelt faintly of sandalwood. She exhaled, inhaled, considered her great good fortune to be with Eddie, to be in this warm and beautiful place, and began sobbing uncontrollably.

 


 

    An hour later, Anne Cathrine was striding purposefully from the door of their house. She was moving so quickly that Cuthbert Pudsey, the guard that Eddie had firmly insisted accompany her everywhere, had to grab the separate bits of his breakfast, weapon, helmet in order to scramble after her. “Where to, Lady Anne?”

    Just as Eddie called her Cat — no; mustn’t think of that pet name, of him, of our bed — the much-displaced Pudsey was the only one to call her “Anne.” Not because of a special bond between them, although that was certainly present, now, but because the Englishman seemed incapable of remembering her full title. It wasn’t his regard or respect that was wanting. If anything, that could easily be adjusted a notch or two lower, given his unwonted proclivity for bows and hat-doffings. It was simply that Cuthbert Pudsey was what Eddie called a “total yeoman.” Loyal, respectful, practical, big-hearted, fundamentally guileless, and as incapable of recalling protocol and honorifics as he was of running to the sun and back before dinner. Occasionally, Eddie referred to him as Sam or Samwise, but she had yet to discover why.

    “I say, Lady Anne, is it to the Gov’ment House we’d be going?”

    “Not immediately, Cuthbert. I am meeting my sister at Dr. Brandão’s.”

    “Ah,” he said as he drew alongside. He glanced at her attire. “If you’ll pardon me sayin’, m’um, you’re not in your volunteering clothes, an’ this isn’t your volunteering day. ‘Asides, you’ve the party to prepare for, eh?”

    She smiled up at him; he smiled back, missing a few teeth but as cheery a face as imagination might paint. “There is no fooling you, is there? You are right; I am going to observe a medical case.”

    Cuthbert grew a bit pale. He was a redoubtable fighter — he’d proven that beyond any doubt during last year’s attack by the Kalinago and the French — but was not enamored of doctors, or “chirurgeons,” as he still called them. As he once explained it, it wasn’t the blood or gore that bothered him; it was the “fiddly messing about in one’s flesh” that made him feel like he might lose the lunch he had not yet eaten.

    Pale as he might have grown, he straightened up a bit and put back his great, if rather curved, shoulders. “Right, then: to the cutter’s!”

    Anne Cathrine managed not to reveal her dismay by putting one fine tooth on one equally fine lip. She had counted on Cuthbert’s aversion to Dr. Brandão’s infirmary as the means whereby she would shed his constant oversight. So what could she–? Ah! “Mr. Pudsey . . . I . . .”

    “Why . . . yes, Lady Anne?” He knew that when she called him Mr. Pudsey, she was about to say something Very Serious Indeed.

    “I . . . I must ask a favor of you.”

    “Why, fer you, anything. Anything at all!”

    “I must ask your discretion.”

    He frowned. “My . . . my discretion? In what way, m’um?”

    She affected being unable to meet his eyes. “I will require privacy. When we reach the doctor’s.”

    “You’ll . . . ?” Then he leaned far back from his concerned forward hunch. “Ah! Now I see it.” He nodded, leaned in, floated a sotto voce question. “A lady’s matter, izzit?”

    “It is,” Anne Cathrine answered in a hushed voice, not lying but using her reticence to inveigle him into making some very erroneous assumptions.

    He was frowning, however. “Given that the little doctor is the finest I’ve ever seen — though I see as few as I may — I’m surprised that he’s, ah, tending to, er, the fairer sex.”

    Anne Cathrine managed not to roll her eyes or punch his beefy shoulder. While she still viewed many of the up-timers’, well, more relaxed relations between the sexes with some reserve, there were two areas in which she was a complete and vociferous convert: the rights of women and the elimination of segregated medical treatment. She found the latter particularly infuriating, and particularly here and now in the New World. Granted, it was rather uncomfortable to be disrobed in front of and examined by a male, but if their expertise was superior, then that was who she wanted administering her care.

    Fortunately, she only had to play-act with Cuthbert, not argue for sweeping changes in social attitudes toward the practice of medicine. “I did not say that Dr. Brandão would be there, just that the matter will be addressed at his infirmary.”

    “Ah, well, I should have realized!” Pudsey smote his flat forehead with his equally flat palm. “Apologies for assumin’, m’um.”

    “No apology required. However, I will require privacy.”

    “Well, of course you will. Where shall I wait for ye?”

    “At the western pavilion that has been erected alongside Government House. I should not be very long, but do remain there, even if I am detained.”

    Pudsey smiled and frowned at the same time. He was obviously glad to be of service but didn’t want to agree to staying put if her absence was so extended that he became unsure of her safety. “Well, as you say, m’um. And here we are.”

    “Keep walking, Pudsey; I do not wish to enter through the front door.”

    “Ah. Right, then. No need to feed the gossip-mongers, eh?”

    “My thoughts exactly. Now, I shall slip in through the smaller door in the rear, just there. Remember, wait for me at the western pavilion.”

    Pudsey frowned, but waved and kept walking toward the canvas wing protruding from one side of Government House where preparations for tonight’s fete were in full swing.

    She watched him go, then slipped in the door.

    “About time!”

    Anne Cathrine started, whirled, fist coming back — and saw Leonora staring wide-eyed at her. She dropped her arm, and managed not to utter several of Eddie’s extremely tepid curses. “Sister, do not startle me so.”

    “Who were you expecting? A pirate?”

    “I was expecting to be able to see you plainly if you were here before me, not hidden in the shadows.”

    “Anne Cathrine,” Leonora said in a voice that would have been quite appropriate in a governess twice her age, “if the objective is for us to remain unobserved, it would be rather foolish of me to arrive here and then stand in the middle of this sunlit room, would it not?”

    Anne Catharine silently admitted she had a point but was also silently resolved not to admit it to her fourteen- year-old sister. “Is Sophie here yet?”

    “Yes.”

    “And is he?”

    “No, but it is still early.”

    “Then lead on.”

    “Me?”

    “You got here first, and you know the best hidden vantage point, do you not?”

    “Dr. Brandão keeps the bolt thrown on the doors to both the supply room and the surgery. The latter has an ill-fitting door, made of driftwood. We should be able to see and hear even while leaving it locked.”

    “Perfect.” Anne Cathrine waited. “Well?”

    “Well, what?”

    “Lead on!”

    Leonora did, and Anne Cathrine was fairly sure she was supposed to overhear her annoyed mutter, “Why do I have to do everything?”

 


 

    They saw the increase in sunlight in the infirmary’s front room, heard faint, polite voices: Sophie’s as she arrived and Dr. Brandão’s as he left.

    Crouched beneath her taller sister so they could both see through the crack between the door and the jamb that had started out as a hatch coaming, Leonora released a long, muffled sigh.

    “What now?” Anne Cathrine whispered.

    “This is ridiculous,” hissed Leonora.

    “It is not,” Anne Cathrine hissed back.

    “Either we should enter and be known, or we should leave. I do not understand why you would –“

    “Let us just stop at that statement: that you do not understand. We shall remedy that later. But for now, let us watch and listen.”

    “But why? If, as you suspect, Sophie’s feelings are greater than she admits, then is it not –?”

    “Leonora,” Anne Cathrine muttered sternly, “Sophie Caisdatter Rantzau may be the most intelligent woman I know beside yourself. And she seems equally limited in her understanding of things — things of a personal nature. We are here to observe so that we might help.”

 



 

    “Seems to me we are here to spy on matters that are manifestly none of our business. And how is it that Sophie’s understanding of personal matters might be lacking? She is a widow, she knows –“

    “Her marriage was arranged for her. Just as Poppa had planned for you and me, until we were saved by the changes wrought by the up-timers. Now be silent or begone!”

    “This is wrong,” Leonora grumbled. But she craned her neck to get a better look through the crack of the door.

 


 

    The knock at the infirmary’s front entrance was so gentle that they barely heard it. The door itself was not in their line of sight, but the soft-voiced greetings confirmed that the newly arrived patient was just who they expected: Hugh O’Donnell.

    Anne Cathrine listened as pleasantries transitioned into medical practicalities. He explained how he no longer felt any pain in it, and attributed that to both her skill and her solicitude. Anne Cathrine smiled: good!

    Sophie breezed past that compliment — and opportunity to shift the conversation to a more personal level — by pointing out that it was difficult to know when a healing process could be considered complete, and commenced to bombard the earl with a battery of inquiries: did the amputation site, or remaining digit, ever feel hot? Did it ever feel numb? Did it ever swell? Did it ever, and did it ever, and did it ever? Anne Cathrine hung her head: bad, very bad. A string of questions that had all the veiled romantic potential of a bouquet of rotting parsnips.

    Hugh answered patiently, a bemused smile growing on his face as Sophie’s barrage continued. His eyes rested upon her more and more; hers were upon him less and less. Unless you counted the mauled finger: her gaze was fixed upon it. More out of desperation than clinical focus, Anne Cathrine suspected.

    When Sophie finally ran out of queries, Hugh smiled broadly and declared himself the most fortunate of all patients. So fortunate, that he was half-glad to have been wounded in the first place.

    Sophie was baffled. “I do not understand, Lord O’Donnell.”

    He shrugged. “Well, if I hadn’t been wounded, then I might never have met you.”

    The unthinkable happened: Sophie blushed. “Nonsense. A soldier should never wish for a wound, even in jest! And certainly not one that costs him a part of his body!”

    Hugh tilted his head, and his smile grew very wide and so, became very bright. “Well, now, that’s a question of exchange, isn’t it?”

    Sophie’s color returned to normal as she frowned, asked, “A question of exchange, Lord O’Donnell? I do not understand; what is this question and what exchange?”

    His eyes became a little less jovial, a little more serious. “It is a question of whether losing half a finger is a fair price for meeting you.” He paused, waited until he had her eyes on his. “I’m thinking it to be a most excellent bargain, Lady Rantzau.”

    Anne Cathrine felt like she might jump out of her skin for want of rushing in and shaking even minimal instincts for courtship into Sophie. Even Leonora murmured wordless approval of Hugh’s soulful wooing. They leaned forward, straining at the aperture between the door and the jamb, listening for Sophie’s crucial response —

    “As I said at the outset, Lord O’Donnell: purest nonsense.” But as unpromising as the words were, her tone was playful. And the smile that followed them was wide and radiant. “Now let us see how it is healing.”

    “Truly,” Hugh protested, “it is quite healed already.”

    “I will be the judge of that,” Sophie countered as her smile changed.

    Anne blinked: was that how Sophie looked when she was being…being…coy? Was “coy” even possible for Sophie the Norn, who reminded the sisters of those spirit-women of Nordic legend, those pronouncers and makers of Fate?

    Sophie rose and gestured to the bench that also served as the infirmary’s couch for examinations. “Kindly be at your ease on this chair, with this hassock beneath your feet. Good. Are you comfortable? Now, just relax.”

    Sophie undertook the unwrapping of the finger with deliberate — almost languorous? — care. By the time the savaged digit was revealed, the procedure had begun to border on the sensuous. She looked, saw him watching her. She returned the stare, smiled slowly. “I work best when I am not under observation, Lord O’Donnell.”

    He smiled, nodded, closed his eyes.

    Sophie made a genuinely thorough and attentive inspection of the still-discolored lower half of his small finger, the top half of which had been shredded by the fragments of a French grenade during his relief of Oranjestad. The remains had been promptly amputated, but Brandão had recommended against searing it, for fear of locking infection in, and his skills had been desperately required by others with far more grievous injuries. In consequence, the tip of what remained was uneven and still somewhat raw.

    “I do not like the look of that,” she pronounced. “Sepsis could still occur. I have half a mind to forbid further travel until that danger is clearly past.”

    Hugh smiled. “Lady Rantzau, my finger is as fit for duty as the rest of me. It was untroubled by my travels, whether at sea or in pestiferous jungles.”

    Her eyelids flew wide open. “Unacceptable! I will not hear of –!”

    He reached a hand toward her, not touching, but imploring. Gently. With a gesture that hinted at a caress. “I am perfectly fine, now,” Hugh reiterated. “I would not lie to you. Lies, even those little ones we tell to calm the concern of those who we hold in high regard, become barriers. And I would not have any barriers between us.”

    She rose very quickly. “I am glad you believe yourself to be well, but as I already told you, I will be the judge of that, Lord O’Donnell!” Anne Cathrine smiled. Sophie was marvelous when she drew herself to her full height and became lofty and almost imperious. Anne was almost a little jealous of her.

    O’Donnell was shaking his head. “I’m never one to contradict a lady, and certainly not one so skilled and determined as yourself. Besides, it’s exhausting.”

    “Exhausting?”

    “Well, that stands to reason, doesn’t it? Here I stand — well, recline — not only laboring to change your mind, but to remember your name.”

    Now Sophie was confused. “You have difficulties remembering my name?”

    “Well, it’s more a matter of remembering to call you Lady Rantzau, because in my mind, you’re Lady Sophie. For which I apologize: I’ve a most unruly and unreliable mind when it comes to remaining formal with those who’ve become special to me. But so long as you address me as Lord O’Donnell I’m fated to address you as Lady Rantzau. Whereas it would far less exhausting to simply call you Lady Sophie.” He paused, once again made sure she was looking directly at him. “I would so much rather call you that.”

    Sophie didn’t respond immediately. She had rapidly transitioned from looking quite composed and happy to appearing confused, and not exactly sure why she was. Anne Cathrine wanted to shout out what she might do next, to keep this ridiculous charade of a medical examination moving in the right direction.

    But Sophie found her own answer. “Well,” she said with purposefully overplayed seriousness, “in the interest of making your final recovery less taxing, I do suppose that a more relaxed environment would be congenial to that purpose. So let us dispense with titles altogether. If that would suit youâ¦Hugh?”

    He smiled. “It would suit me very well, Sophie.” He said her name as if he were about to sing it.

    “Well, then, I . . . I will get the linens for one last dressing. To cover it while the scar-tissue becomes stronger. I shall return momentarily.” She went to the supply room.

    He smiled as he watched her go, kept watching the door as if some faint hint of her image might have been imparted to it.

    Anne Cathrine wanted to stamp her feet in wild happiness, relief, and a bit of exultation. The only man she had ever seen more smitten than Hugh O’Donnell was her own darling Eddie.

    Leonora, however, was looking up at her, frowning. “Yet another dressing?” she complained, forgetting to whisper. “That is totally unnecessary. His finger is perfectly fine. I can see it from here. Her so- called precautions are actually quite baffling and obtuse.”

    Anne Catharine patted her hand. “As are you, sometimes, dear Leonora. As are you. Now be quiet! You were entirely too loud. So let us leave before we are detected.” As she said it she stole one more glance through the crack of the door.

    Hugh O’Donnell was looking straight at her. He couldn’t actually see her, she told herself, but, well, he was certainly staring at the door. And yes, he was focused on the crevice between it and the doorjamb. He turned away, chuckled noiselessly, and put his hands behind his head and laid back.

    Anne Cathrine grabbed Leonora’s arm and they left the infirmary as quickly as stealth would allow.


Home Page Index Page

 


 

 



Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image