Another week, another excerpt of our serial story, The Gypsy's Curse. If you are joining us for the first time, this is a weekly post of my work in progress, a rough draft of my work, unedited. Its a chance for you to peek into the writer's mind and to follow along in a serialized novel, just like in the old days. And yes, I do try to end on a cliffhanger each week so that you feel the urge to come back.
Last week, Zara was taken to Huntingdon Abbey by Stephan St. John. He found her injured in the woods, and not realizing she was the very girl who hid in his attics and stole a kiss from late one evening, the girl he believes is a ghost, he swept her up in his capable arms and brought her back to the very place she has been trying to escape. The doctor has been called, and has just set her broken bone. There's something fishy about the doctor, Stephan believes, as his wolf senses kick into overdrive as he worries over his charge.
Copyright Lily Silver, 2013
Stephan swore and lunged for the door. “Good God, Mulleins, what are you trying to do, skin the girl alive!”
Miss Jennings lay white and pale on the sheets, her face strained with agony. The two women stood on either side of the bed, each holding a hand, while the doctor was busy bracing her foot.
“Had to set the bone.” Mulleins replied, unruffled by Stephan’s violent entrance. “Gave her Laudanum, but I should have waited a little longer for it to set in.”
“That is an understatement if ever I heard one.” Stephan snarled, feeling oddly protective of the wilted girl he’d taken into his home. “I advise you to be more careful in the future, doctor.”
The old man nodded and finished closing the last buckle on the brace. The contraption went nearly up to the young woman’s knee. Her legs were shapely, indeed.
The realization struck Stephan that he was in a young lady’s bedchamber, gawking at her bare leg—most improper according to the dictates of society. She was not his wife, his sister or even his fiancée. She was little more than a stranger to him. He released his breath in a short huff of impatience at society’s tight strictures and promptly dismissed them. They weren’t in London. His servants were the only ones had witnessed the faux pas—and the doctor. Annie and Maggie wouldn’t wag their tongues, not out here in the wilderness, as it were. The doctor, he hoped, had more important things to do with his time then gossip to the locals about Lord St. John’s social blunders. He should, at any rate.
Stephan crossed his arms about his chest and turned to gaze out the window so as not to be seen gawking at the poor girl. He could hardly be suspected of ruining the young lady when he’d brought her to his home and sent for the doctor to deal with her injuries. “The ankle is broken, I assume.” He directed his question to the doctor.
“Yes, sir. She’ll need to remain in bed for at least a couple of weeks, not move that foot or ankle so the bone begins to mend proper. After that, we’ll see how it goes as far as walking, with crutches. That brace will need to be on for six weeks, two months is better.”
“No . . . I can’t stay . . . in bed. Must go . . .” Miss Jennings muttered, making Stephan turn about to face the bed again.
“Shhh, Miss.” Annie soothed. “Just rest, darlin’. Don’t worry about a thing.” The housekeeper caressed the girl’s cheek as she spoke, as if comforting a small child.
“Yes, you needn’t worry, Miss Jennings. You will be well cared for here until you’ve recovered completely.” Stephan put in, advancing slowly toward the bed. Looking at the pale creature made that odd prickling of protectiveness return. “You’ll be safe here, Miss Jennings.”
The girl gazed at him with cloudy eyes. The opiates were taking over her perceptions.
“What of her head, did you check that yet? She had a gash near her temple.” Stephan directed the doctor with impatience. Never in his life had he felt such irritation with the old family physician. He didn’t understand his reaction, or why he felt such a churning of anxiety in his abdomen.
“I was going to check that next.” Old Dr. Mulleins said in a dry tone, almost as an afterthought. He stared at Stephan, his lips twitched upward in amusement. “If you care to wait for me in your study, I’ll give you my report there.”
“Oh, just get on with it.” Stephan replied, resenting the old man’s condescending tone. “There’s no need for such formality here. The girl is wounded, tend her, damn it.”
Thick, iron gray brows rose in surprise as Mulleins regarded Stephan with unconcealed curiosity before returning his attention back to his patient. “Hmmm.” He grumbled, as if he’d hit upon something of significance. He took the edge of Miss Jennings’ night rail in his hand and pulled the material over her exposed legs, tucking the covers over her to her waist. Annie and Maggie moved back to allow the physician close to the patient.
The old man seemed to move at a snail’s pace. Stephan couldn’t help wondering what good the physician would be if someone were actually in mortal danger. He watched as the doctor lifted his patient’s wrist, held it, and then looked at his pocket watch for several moments. He examined the wound on the girl’s left temple, touched it lightly with his fingertips, and his face became somber. Mulleins bent over her face and lifted a closed lid on his unconscious patient, peered into her eye for a time, and then he stood upright again. “Hmmm.”
“Well.” Stephan prompted. “What is it?”
“Did she seem disorientated when you found her?”
“I heard crying in the woods, that’s how I found her.” He thought about it a little. “No. She was able to tell me her name and where she was from. Will she be all right?”
“Yes.” Mulleins shrugged, as if it were obvious to any and all but Stephan that she was.
“What of her head injury?” Stephan rounded on the man.
“I’m afraid I cannot assess the extent of the injury until she’s awake, my lord.”
It was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. “Well, then, why did you give her the opiates to begin with?” He said, with hands on hips, feeling a rush of anger. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep her awake so you could determine if her sensibilities have been compromised?”
“Perhaps.” The doctor drew himself up straighter, assuming a defensive pose. “My main concern was dulling the agony that comes with setting a broken bone.”
“Yet, you did not wait for the medicine to take full effect.” Stephen wanted to throttle the man. Was he getting soft in his old age? Or careless. Stephen never recalled the doctor being this inept with Julia. Why did the man give her medicine purportedly for pain, and then set her bone before she was sufficiently under its power? He didn’t like this situation. He had not encountered the doctor for close to three years. Much could change in that time, much indeed.
“I did not give her a strong dose to make her sleep. She’s exhausted from her experience and rightly so. The medicine has merely hastened what nature intended all along, that she rest after her ordeal in the woods. I do not perceive that she is seriously injured, sir, if that is your concern. She can tell us her name and knows who she is. Beyond that, we shall have to wait until the morrow to determine her situation.”
Stephan bit his lip to stymie a terse response. He nodded to the doctor and removed himself from the room. He was being discourteous, he was well aware of that fact. He wanted to make sure Miss Jennings had the best medical care available. Head injuries could be a very risky business. He had a friend who was a physician, an old school chum. He’d not seen the man since they left school. Perhaps he might write to Jarrod and ask his opinion in the matter, just to be sure. Dr. Mulleins served the St. John family since Stephan was a boy. Loyalty aside, as a business man accustomed to keeping up on new developments and inventions in the world of finance, Stephan couldn’t ignore the fact that the man was quite old and his practice limited to an isolated area of the country.
Who knew how much the fellow kept upon on recent medical discoveries?
“Are you certain it was the gypsy girl?” Lord Graham asked Dr. Mulleins for at least the fifth time.
“I am reasonably certain, my lord. She fits the description, and was found lost in the woods over in Westmoorland.” Dr. Mulleins replied. He didn’t take to being treated as if he were a country bumpkin, and yet, both St. John and this low ranking lord seemed to question his reasoning faculties. “If it is her, she’s traveled far, over twenty miles on foot--unless someone gave her a ride into the next shire.”
“It’s been close to a month since the murders. If it is her, she’s been hiding well.” Lord Graham pondered Dr. Mullein’s report. The magistrate steepled his hands together as he sat at his desk, and stared profoundly at the deer head on the wall opposite him. “How far is Huntington Abbey?”
“Fifteen miles from here, my lord.” Dr. Mulleins sniffed slightly, trying to tamp down his outrage. The weathered post in the village square clearly said there was a reward for any news leading to arrest and capture of the girl. Yet, this well fed pontificating lummox who outranked him merely through an accident of birth had not said anything about a reward during this meandering conversation. “I’ve served the St. John Family for several decades, sir.”
He hoped the reminder of expected loyalty would be adequate as a reminder of the risk involved to him, and the need for monetary compensation.
“Yes, yes. You’ll be rewarded, if this is the girl.” The magistrate brushed aside his point with irritation. “Comstock! Comstock ....” The lord bellowed.
A jowly fellow entered at the magistrate’s command. “Aye sir?”
“We must set off for Huntington Abbey in Westmoorland immediately. Rouse the constable. Dr. Mulleins, will you be accompanying us?”
“Ah . . .” Dr. Mulleins ground his teeth as he hesitated. St. John was angry with him as it was. He’d given the girl a generous dose of Laudanum, enough to make her sleep for most of the day. And, he’d not waited until the drug numbed her senses before setting the bone. He’d been in a hurry. Once he realized the girl might be the missing gypsy suspected of killing the widow Kendall and mutilating her nephew, he’d hurried through the procedure so he could collect the reward. He didn’t intend to return to the abbey with the constable and the magistrate.
“I see, betrayal is best when one doesn’t have to face their benefactor, is that the way the wind is blowing, Doctor?” The magistrate’s words were terse, meant to cut deeply, cause shame.
The cut was there, but not the shame the great oaf hoped to inspire. Mulleins was not ashamed. He knew his prospects were lowering. Younger competitors, fresh faced youths out of the Royal Academy preferred the Lake District regions, and the number of physicians in the area had increased in recent years. During his prime, alas, for the past forty years, he’d been the only true physician in the region. Oh, there had been a few midwives, and a few barber surgeons, true. They were fine if one had a bad tooth. He took pride in knowing he was trained at the Royal Academy and his reputation as a physician to the wealthy in the area had been his livelihood for too long. Now, he was shunned, as people of wealth preferred the young bucks over a seasoned man with decades of experience. And rich patrons, such as St. John, had taken to openly questioning his methods. It rankled. He was retiring, not out of desire, but need, as his hands shook too much these days and his eyesight was not as sure as it had once been.
Still, the nerve of St. John, implying he was inept! Well, then, he’d take his reward for turning in the gypsy vagabond and be gone from this remote region. He’d hie away to Brighton or Bath. He had funds set aside. Yes, at Bath, he could take the waters in the spring.
“Well, then, here you go.” The magistrate plunked a small leather pouch in front of him on the desk, bringing Mulleins out of his musings. “Take it, and be off with you. If she’s our girl, then you’ll have another ten pounds coming to you. I’ll send word when I return.”
copyright Lily Silver 2013