Another Week, Another episode in Zara's saga. When last we left her, she'd been taken back to the manse by the very man she was trying to flee from. Zara's injury may be serious indeed, and St. John has sent for the physician from a nearby village. Zara is terrified the physician may recognize her. She has just been told by the housekeeper that the doctor has been sent for.
Copyright Lily Silver, 2013
“Oh, no.” Zara clutched the old woman’s arm with alarm. “He mustn’t. I do not like doctors.” It was true. She’d heard horrifying tales about the Gadje physicians and their brutal ways. “They do more harm than good. Where I come from, the women tend the sick.”
“Oh, now, just settle yourself, Miss Jennings.” The old woman soothed. She placed a comforting hand on Zara’s and squeezed her palm with affection. “I don’t know how the doctors in the Indies go about things, but I assure you that Dr. Mulleins has served this family for three decades and he’s not given to excessive bleeding and leeching, if that’s what you fear.”
The red haired servant burst into the room at that moment, bearing an armload of goods from the mistress’ chamber. “I brought the pretty dressing gown, Annie and her slippers. I thought the young miss must be properly clothed before the doctor looked in on her.” The freckle faced girl smiled brightly at Zara, making her feel even more wretched in her deception.
“Ach, you’re a canny one, Maggie.” The older woman, Annie, chuckled. “I didn’t think that far ahead, meself.” Annie took the things from the girl and sent her to retrieve a pitcher of warm water so that ‘Miss Jennings’ could wash up proper. “And you have leaves in your hair.” The older woman commented, glancing about the room for Zara’s bag. Finding it, she rummaged through it in search of a hairbrush and comb, and then returned to the bed. “These are very fine.” The old woman commented. “Silver, rare indeed.”
“They were a gift, to my mother from my father.” Zara confessed. It was the truth. Her mother had kept them hidden all those years, and when she knew she was dying, she’d given them to Zara, along with her father’s crimson Hellfire Club Cloak.
The woman made small talk as she brushed out the tangles of Zara’s thick, dark hair.
“Such pretty hair, Miss Jennings.”
“Call me Sarah, please?” Zara begged, disliking the strict formality of the Gadjes already.
“As you like, Miss Sarah.” Annie sighed, and grimaced as she encountered an especially difficult tangle. Maggie removed Zara’s other boot and her stockings, and then attempted to remove the rest of Zara’s clothing. It was embarrassing to be undressed by another. Zara had not had anyone undress her so since she was a very little girl. When her arms were bared, and she remained in her chemise and petticoat, she crossed her arms, fearful they might notice the mark on her arm.
“Come now, Miss Sarah.” Annie coaxed. “I understand a girl being shy, but you’ve not got anything under that chemise I’ve not seen before. Off with it now, and this damp petticoat. You’ll be much more comfortable once you’ve been put in warm dry clothes.”
Zara ground her teeth. Tears stung her eyes, but she uncrossed her arms and allowed Maggie to lift the chemise over her head. If they saw her birthmark, neither woman remarked on it. She watched them carefully with averted eyes to see if any peculiar looks were exchanged, but both women seemed oblivious to the mark on her underarm as they stripped her and placed the fresh gown over her head and helped her find the arms.
During the next hour, Zara did her best to play the part of Sarah Jennings. Her mind was slowed by the pain, but she took great care to think before she spoke when answering their questions. Fortunately, the servants were more concerned with combing out the tangles in her hair and making her comfortable than in interrogating her concerning her identity or her past. She found herself slowly relaxing beneath their kindness concern. Maggie was sent out for warm water and towels by the older woman.
“How long have you been traveling, Miss Sarah?” Annie asked in a neutral tone.
“Months, it seems. I journeyed from the Indies, that took six weeks and when we arrived here it was so bleak and cold. I was told we must make another long journey by coach to my uncle’s home. They said it would take at least a week, if the roads were favorable, to reach Northumberland.”
“Poor dear. Yes, the weather has been quite damp and cold these past weeks, and you from the tropics and all. It must seem an unwelcoming place to be. If you’d come in June and not November, why, you’d have found England a delightful place indeed. If not for that broken ankle, I’d have you in a steaming bath soaking your worries away. Best not to fuss with moving you much until the doctor sees you.”
There was a discrete knock, and Maggie returned bearing a pitcher of steaming water and a set of towels. “The doctor’s arrived.” She informed them. “Sir is bringing him up.”
“Oh, fustian!” Annie snapped, setting the brush on Zara’s lap. “We’ve not gone halfway to making the poor child presentable. Here, quick, give me that dressing gown. The wash water will have to wait.” Annie made a face as she gingerly touched Zara’s temple and then rubbed her finger on her apron. There was a smudge of red dirt on it, Zara noted.
The physician was allowed entrance. St. John merely poked his head inside the door to nod hello and then retreated. The physician was indeed great in age. She judged him to be at least seventy. He was bright eyed and very dignified. Zara endured the doctor’s poking inspection of her person, as she knew she must. Dr. Mulleins told her and the frowning Annie that he was trying to ascertain if there were any broken ribs as his stubby fingers poked into her side. Zara gasped at one point, to which the man made an odd grunting noise and then nodded knowingly. Cracked rib, he informed her and instructed the older woman to bind Zara’s ribs tightly with linens after he left.
The doctor was gentle and seemed sympathetic to her plight, just as the women had been. Zara was stunned by their compassion. She didn’t expect such treatment from the Gadje—er—English. Indeed, she’d learned from experience as a hated gypsy that they could be very cruel towards those they deemed outsiders. Their warmth and acceptance of her was overwhelming. Once again, she felt tears prickling behind her eyes.
After assessing her head wound and her torso, the doctor finally held her damaged ankle between his palms and looked positively repentant as he met her gaze. “I’m afraid it’s broken, my dear. And you won’t like me very much for what I must do to repair it.”
Zara gasped, knowing what his next words would be. She was no stranger to injuries or illness, as her grandmother Sapphira had been the healer among them. He must set the bone.
“Annie, m’dear,” The old doctor murmured, “Take Miss Jennings’ arm, if you will, and Maggie, girl, you get on the other side and do likewise. Now, Miss, I know this will be painful. I’ll give you a generous dose Laudanum before we precede, but it will still hurt some.”
He set her bruised and swollen foot on the pillow, and rummaged in his black satchel for something. A bottle of dark liquid emerged in his pudgy hand, and he measured out an amount in the small glass medicine flask he kept on the top of the short bottle neck. Zara took it as he instructed, with Annie rubbing her back in a supportive gesture as she sipped the noxious potion.
Dr. Mulleins pulled a strange wooden contraption from his large bag. It was shaped like a letter L, with leather tongs laced up the long shaft. It was very much like a boot, without the toe shield or the long leather shaft, rather like the skeleton of a boot, or a form for stretching leather to create a boot, she thought, as she watched him set it on the bed next to her.
“Whenever you’re ready, Miss Jennings.”
Stephan knew he should be downstairs, somewhere a fair distance away from his guest’s bedchamber. He couldn’t leave the hallway. He stood with his arms about his chest, leaning against the wall outside the room, straining to hear the conversation beyond the wall. He couldn’t make out their words but he could hear Mulleins talking to his patient in that low, calm tone he was famous for.
The girl was breath-taking. Mysterious. Her dark hair was as shiny as a raven’s wing, and those green pools—a man could lose himself staring into their bewitching depths. She had the lightly tanned complexion of one who had lived her life in the tropics, and if he wasn’t mistaken, she might even been a quadroon. That would explain her uneasiness around them, her distrust of those who only wished to do her a kindness.
He could well imagine the so called ‘uncle’ and his people, whom she’d said were ‘horrible’ to her. There were men who thought it was acceptable to prey upon a woman of unfortunate circumstances, a woman born of a slave and a white planter. Stephan and his family had long been members of the abolitionist society. He knew that men took advantage of such women in the tropics and sometimes a man would return from the West Indies with a little something extra to pad his bed, an unwilling mistress. Some men even sold girls of mixed blood to the brothels here. The thought of such a tender young girl as Miss Jennings falling prey to such men made his blood seethe and churn.
T’was obvious she was running away from something or someone. She’d kept to the woods instead of the road. Well, she’d run no more, not if he had anything to do with it. He could see that she was . . .
A bone chilling shriek brought him up short, and raised the hackles on his neck.
Stephan swore and lunged for the door. “Good God, Mulleins, what are you trying to do, skin the girl alive!” Copyright Lily Silver 2013