BOOK 1: PAINTED TRUST
Edith and the Forensic Surgeon
Available Second half 2017
Edinburgh, Scotland 1871.
It was a day of smeared greys and bleak wind, a day the Bronte sisters would have approved of, even if she didn’t. Edith lifted the brass knocker of number 48 Surgeon’s Square and knocked it against the glossy, black door. The three hard knocks vibrated through her hand and rang out down the street. It sounded like a baton thumping on castle gates. Like a request for refuge against the weather, against the coming night and against a pursuing past; but in reality, it was the sound of hope beating frantically against the odds.
What she planned went against all her ethics. She would ruthlessly use man of this house, purger herself before she was done. But if she was successful and no one found her before she was done, she’d leave it all behind. The men hunting her, the dangers and sure death if she was caught. For the first time in a life spent closeted away from respectable society, she would have a real chance to live with freedom and meaning. The stain on her character would be a small price to pay.
The door opened.
Her breath hitched.
An elderly butler filled the doorway and from behind him warmth flooded out along with the smell of astringents. It flowed out over her face and brushed both cheeks like warm, dry hands. She breathed in that familiar smell and some of the tightness in her body eased.
She squared her shoulders.
“Yes, yes I am.” Her hand squeezed the handle of her valise. It felt like he could see right through her. See her for the fake she was and that he’d slam the door shut in her face.
“You’re younger than our usual.” His eyes narrowed.
Nerves scuttled down her spine. Her age, was she too young? It was possible, but questioning her on the front step was unquestionably rude. Edith tilted her chin up and gave him an imperial look of disapproval.
His face was expressionless. The wind pushed her coat against her back. One second ticked by then the next. She held her gaze firm.
His head gave a brief nod and he stepped back and held the door for her to enter.
“I hope you have more where that came from.”
Relief swept through her.
That sounded a bit ominous but then Doctor Vaughn did have a blustering reputation. Her investigations showed that this surgical practice was unable to hold a head nurse longer than four or five months. Despite Dr. Vaughn’s outstanding reputation as a surgeon, he was a very difficult and demanding man to work with. He was desperate and the pickings slim. Whether he knew of her lack of experience or not, he had taken her on. She was counting on the fact that he would keep her on regardless of any short comings as long as she could keep up with him and brave his legionary offensive manner.
A long escalating scream came from inside the house.
They both stood still as it rang out. Her on the front portico and the old man waiting for her to enter. His brow creased and his eyes met hers as if she would turn tail and run. The tightness in her abdomen soften at his concern, he had no idea.
Edith let her face relax and stood firm and straight. Hopefully he’d think she’d heard it all.
“Sounds like I arrived just in time.”
He looked relieved and her shoulders eased down.
This was going to work. They needed her as much as she them.
“Come on in there is much we have to do.” He reached out as he spoke and took her small brown valise and ushered her inside. “Mr Morris, butler and assistant to the doctor.”
Edith stepped over the threshold, behind her the door clicked firmly closed.
The black and white tiled foyer was sparsely furnished. A single potted palm, gold framed mirror and a glossy wooden sideboard all clustered to one side. Stairs went up to what would be private rooms above. From the outside she could see three floors so most likely the surgeon had the second floor and staff such as herself the third and possibly the attic. This was now her new home and her first ever position of employment, head nurse in the private surgical practice and abode of Dr. Anthony Vaughn.
“We expected your arrival well over an hour ago.” Morris held out a hand for hat and coat.
“I walked.” She handed him the bonnet and started on the buttons of her coat. “I eventually got comprehensible directions at the Old Thistle.” Her clean English accent sounded confident.
There was a lot she could call on to help her in this position, she may not have been involved in a live operation but no one would dispute that she had a passion. From the age of eleven she read every medical book she could get her hands on; at the age of twenty three that knowledge was now embodied in her. That would be good.
And there were all those cadavers she’d practiced on. Her world was by nature macabre, so one of the painted sisters having a hobby of slicing up the dead resulted in grisly gifts and drove up her eventual auction price. No one ever wanted to know about all the English, French and German journals she’d read. Or that she was already published under a suedenim.
Yet despite all of that, as she removed her outdoor wear her hands shook and her palms were clammy.
The audacity of what she was doing was sinking in. Thinking of doing something outrageous and actually doing it were two different things. If she had a modicum of common sense, she would turn around and leave regardless of the dangers outside. She’d forged a letter of recommendation for a job she had never done in a professional she had never practiced.
The butler tsked her collegiately as he placed her things on hooks in the hall cupboard.
“I’m afraid we’ll need you to get started immediately. I’ll see your belongings are taken to your room. There’s no time to change but any damage to your clothes will be compensated.”Another howl wailed through the house. This time as if the owner of it were passing the innards of hell through his vocal cords.
Her heart beat faster.
It was hard to say exactly from what, excitement, trepidation, perhaps both. What if she failed? What if the doctor took one look at her, saw her inexperience and threw her out? The tension settled back in her gut.
As the howls started to increase in volume and frequency double doors at the far right flung open hitting the walls on either side.
Edith looked up.
A stallion of a man strode into the foyer.
She took one involuntary step back before she got control of her cowardice legs.
That couldn’t be him.
She looked over at Morris who was still putting her things away totally immune to the doors or man.
Her gaze returned to the stallion.
He stopped and stood scowling at her as the doors swung shut behind him. The full six-foot plus of him with hands on narrow hips and oddly mussed chocolate colored hair made the foyer shrink.
A remarkable but very delicious ripple trickled down her spine.
This wasn’t right.
There had been no illustrations or photographs of him in the medical journals but from the tone of his writing, from his views she had always imagined a staid medico, someone steeped in formaldehyde.
Perhaps it was an assistant sent to check on her arrival.
Her eyes darted over him in hope.
His leather apron and rolled up sleeves both showed signs of blood. Even if those signs weren’t there, his bearing shouted his position. He was the ultimate candidate for the Hippocratic Oath. A wielder of life and death in a body built to suture the two realms together.
No luck on that front. The feeling that fluttered in her chest should be disappointment … but it wasn’t.
His voice swallowed what little remained of rational thought.
Here is a Pinterest board that reflects some of the ideas and mood as I was writing.