copyright K Brogan 2009
Dear Readers, I don't know why, but I put in marks to break up a chapter when we switch scenes, but those marks don't come through...so if you're wondering why you jump from one scene to the other without warning, it's because the marks don't come out on FFIC. I haven't read through the whole story on ffic to delineate the chapter breaks, but I'm going to try putting space and some xxx's between the ones I do catch while I'm reviewing certain chapters. SORRY!
"Doctor, the Baxter's scullery maid is havin' her baby!" The boy yelled as he bent over to catch his breath, his chest heaving from having run so far. "She's been tryin' since late last night. The midwife told me to fetch you."
The breathless youngster had run several miles to retrieve him, but the doctor wasn't able to leave Margaret McCarthy, who was also giving birth. Mrs. McCarthy was on her fourth child so the birthing was going as smooth as butter, but it was still at a crucial point and the doctor wasn't sure he should leave.
The older woman helping him signaled that she could handle the birth; Mrs. McCarthy wasn't going to be any trouble. He nodded and cleaned up before grabbing his bag and making his way out to his horse which stood stoically,shivering in the storm, waiting to take the doctor to his next call. He motioned to the wet boy, whose clothes were little more than rags.
"Get on lad, you can ride on back." Reaching down, he gave the young boy a hand up. Climbing on, the child clung to the doctor's waist as they rode full speed into the Irish night, both of their heads were tilted down to keep the driving rain out of their eyes.
Doctor O'Sullivan knew he wasn't going to make it in time. The black night and driving rain had flooded most of the left bank of the lower river, making both the bridge and the road impossible to cross. He decided to try the long way around, about two miles north, but it was still going to be a difficult journey because even the north road had a low section that was sure to be flooded.
When he arrived, there was an eerie silence and darkness throughout the house. He could only make out one lamp in an upper window on the third floor. The maid who answered the front door was somber and wouldn't raise her eyes to meet his.
"Girl, how's the patient?"
"Dead, sir." She reached up with her apron to wipe her tears.
The shock caused the doctor to cry out, "Dead?" Taking a deep breath, he asked, "What about the child?"
The woman wiped the blood away from her hands and nodded. "She's alive, sir. She's a pretty little thing."
He looked down and shook his head. "Well, you better take me to them."
They walked through the dark manor hall, their steps only lit by a single lantern she carried, to the back servant's stairs to the third floor. Climbing the narrow wooden steps, he could hear the faint cry of an infant. On the top landing were blood-stained sheets rolled up into a ball. The doctor pushed the door open and saw a room lit by candles and two middle aged women crying. The body was wrapped in a sheet which the doctor pulled apart to check the dead woman's pulse. Once the heart stopped pumping, blood followed the laws of gravity; her face was translucent from the blood draining and pooling in her back. He had no doubts that she was dead; there was nothing he could do for her so Dr. O'Sullivan turned his attention to the infant.
She was lying in the middle drawer of an old oak dresser next to her dead mother, wrapped in a purple and green woolen shawl. A pretty baby, she was pink and rosy, blond hair, lovely blue eyes. She wasn't crying, just staring up trying to focus on him. He listened to her heart and chest, both clear as a bell and then put his stethoscope away.
"What was the mother's name?"
The charwoman sniffed, "Rose Broderick from County Mayo. She arrived here nigh on eight months ago. The master didin' know she was with child when they hired her."
"Did she have family?"
The older of the two women shook her head, "None that I know of sir. Sir, what will become of the bairn?"
"She'll go to the orphanage. Do you have anyone who can nurse her until we can make the arrangements?"
They shook their heads.
"Well, Mrs. McCarthy just gave birth; maybe she can nurse her until arrangements can be made. You better wrap the baby up and let me take her; she's going to need to be fed. Tell the Baxters that we'll send someone to pick up the body as soon as the storm blows through. Put it in the cellar where it can be kept cool. "
The almost toothless maid shook her head in disbelief. "But doctor, you can't take a baby out in this weather."
"It's either this weather or she dies of starvation. They say the storm is only going to get worse tomorrow."
The two women said no more. They simply swaddled the rosy cheeked baby into the shawl and handed her up to the doctor who was now straddled on his mount. He took her into his arms and quickly tied her to the front of his body in a sturdy sling. They galloped off into the night, the winds so strong that the rain felt like little needles against his skin. The river had risen even higher, making passage even along the north route treacherous.
As he came galloping down the hill, his horse whinnied and railed up against an unknown terror. The surprised doctor craned his neck to see what was causing his horse to bolt, but all he saw was the dark and the rain. No matter what he did, his horse would go no further. He was about to get down and lead the horse, when there was a hollow screech and then a large swooshing movement in front of him. He had no idea what it was; it was so dark and windy that he had a hard time seeing down the path that lay ahead.
"Is there someone there?" He yelled into the wind, his heart racing and chills running down his spine.
A dark figure seemed to appear from the ether. The thin man in evening clothes walked forward towards the doctor. He gave a curt nod. "Good evening, Doctor." The mysterious man tipped his top hat slightly.
The doctor called out, "Damn it man, you gave my horse a scare. We could have been killed. Step aside I have important business to attend to."
The man said nothing at first. The wind roared, but the rain had stopped, but the doctor's horse was still bucking.
"You have my daughter." The mysterious man took several steps forward, his evening cape flying in the wind behind him.
The doctor felt the hair on his neck raise. "Your daughter?"
"Yes, I am her father. Her mother, Rose…she was my lover. Please hand her over."
"I can't do that. I don't know you and I certainly cannot entrust the care of a newborn to a stranger."
The doctor didn't have a chance to say another word. It happened in a flash, the feel of hands pulling him off the horse, a strange feeling in his neck. Within a matter of seconds, he could feel his life leaving his body and yet he didn't feel any pain. Lying in the middle of a puddle in the dirt road with water up to his ears, all he could see was the rain starting again and then there was nothing.
The tall man in the top hat held the mewing infant tightly to his body. He took a knife from his pocket and made a small cut across the outer part of his wrist. Blood began to ooze. Holding his wrist to the baby's pink lips, the blood dripped into her open mouth. "Come Acushla, let's go home."