Copright 2010 by Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick
Cover photo copyright - Alf Ertsland
Cover design - Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick
Book design - Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author‟s imagination and are not to be construed as real or historically accurate. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
Baby Rachel poem copyright M.V. Harmon, 1959; altered and used in this narrative by permission of the author.
United States of America
1. The queer child
2. Seeking some cause
3. But never any stars
4. Good news from a great distance
5. The other child
6. The space for a soul
7. Not even the seas raged so
9. Unexpected authority
10. Which words hold the truth
11. A wandering spirit
12. The depths of hatred
13. A casket of secrets
14. Something unspeakable
16. Dreams will change
17. Speaking with spirits
18. Finding – and losing
19. All the Heaven‟s stars
20. Vessels and hearts
21. Things still unanswered
22. Stinging light
24. The queer child
25. Opotiki‟s magic
26. Devon‟s call
the queer child
Rachel was sitting in the middle of the nursery rug when her nanny discovered her; the familiar blank stare, the listlessness of limb, her head tilted slightly to the left. It had only been two days since the last episode, and her nanny could see instantly, it would be horrible this time. Rachel was barely breathing.
“Maggie, come runnin‟! Rachel is gone again!” her nanny cried into the hallway. She was approaching the little girl, gently, when Maggie entered the room.
“No, not today! Poor wee lass.” Maggie breathed. “Was anything different when you dressed her?”
“I‟ve just come in; she dressed herself – before this-” Her nanny withered beside the child. “How can she live like this?”
“Can you lift her, Kinsey? Will she let you?”
“I don‟ know,” Kinsey sobbed. “I‟m afraid t‟ try.”
“If you can coax her to stand, maybe we won‟t have to carry her.”
Both women looked down at the child near their feet, desperate to help her without making the matter worse, as the last episode had been. That awful day had come after a wonderful respite of nearly a month. Rachel was beginning to play normal y, finally – then, in an eye-blink, she was immobile on the floor again, rigid, that last time. At least now she was sitting, even if limply; she might actually let them walk her to the bed. But, Kinsey was terrified to touch her, to do something that might stop her breathing again. Kinsey didn‟t want to own the loving hands that might kill the girl.
Within an inch of the child‟s shoulder, her nanny paused.
“What will we do? If she stops breathing?”
“We breathe for her, as the doctor instructed, just…be gentle –”
Kinsey was gentle, very, but Maggie‟s strong hands, shaking somewhat now, were inches away from Rachel‟s back, ready to catch her if she stiffened and fell. At the instant she was touched they held their breath; seconds passed before any other sound was heard.
The child did not react.
“Take her hand,” Maggie instructed, and with compassion. The strain and worry was apparent in Kinsey‟s face. Her eyes were moist.
Another caressing touch met Rachel‟s limp hand, the one lying upturned in her lap, where it had fallen when her eyes were closed by the faint. Kinsey took the sweaty hand and lifted it, felt it respond, but only in a good way. She would let them touch her; perhaps now, to guide her to her bed. Once there, they would feel some modest control over the frightening event. Kinsey lifted the child‟s hand in the guiding motion, and when it was at arm‟s length, Rachel resisted the pull. She did not pull away, but began to uncoil her legs; she had been sitting on them.
“She‟s pullin‟ back,” Kinsey sighed.
“Let her stand, Love. But not too quickly,” Maggie replied.
“Her hand, tis so cold!” Kinsey whispered.
They readied themselves for a loss of control as Rachel continued to move for them, to stand, but she did not open her eyes, her breath made no sound. It seemed a happy success, she was nearing a crouching position and four hands were now helping her with as much love as the two women dared offer. But –
Rachel did not stand; she stiffened, suddenly enough to catch them unaware in spite of their care. She fell forward, not back into Maggie‟s hands and both women gasped at the same instant. Rachel was face down on the ornate rug; her legs splayed at odd angle, bruising Maggie‟s shins, her stiffened arm now pulling Kinsey closer to the floor. Her nose was beginning to bleed.
“Master Thornton!” Maggie shouted over her shoulder. She did so several times until the heavy sounds of running feet approached from the long hallway. They seemed to take an eternity to enter the room.
Rachel was immobile in her bed, her clothing pulled aside with little concern for tearing off buttons, her father was breathing slowly into her mouth and Kinsey dabbed at the little girl‟s nose with a kerchief each time he lifted his lips. He had not come thundering down the hallway alone, nearly the entire household stood around the bedside, the small child so dear to them all, and there were tears in every eye.
This was the worst episode they had yet seen. Thornton Ellingswood was keeping his daughter alive with his own breath.
Their doctor was an hour‟s hard ride into the city of Barnstaple on the River Taw. The man had begged them to abandon the house on the coast, to come into the city to get Rachel proper care, but they had been able to stay that decision, she had never seemed so bad as this before. With each ragged breath into his daughter‟s small mouth, Thornton prayed and wept that she would live, so he could move his family away from the ancient house at last.
His delay may have killed her now.
“She‟s breathing!” he barely said, his lips only brushing hers, “She‟s breathing!” He did not move, lest she need more life forced into her little mouth. Her father‟s tears fell against her cheeks as he listened, and felt her air caress his waiting lips.
“Thorn – she‟s relaxing.”
Kinsey looked over her master‟s shoulder to the woman leaning down to his ear, more tears onto the child‟s cheek; her mother‟s.
“Thorn,” Selia comforted him, “she‟s going to rest now.” It was a happy thing to say, but it came without any happiness. Every person in the room was wracked with sudden weariness, as if their combined strength alone had kept the child alive for her desperate parents.
The Ellingswoods were well loved, and pitied. Theirs should have been a household of laughter, and of constant joy; those with them now shared all their agony for Rachel, the only child that Thornton and Selia could have. For tiny Rachel, life was sometimes a bit of rest, between brushes with Death itself.
Four years old now, she had become the darling of the household, and of the tiny village between the hills and the sea, though she did not visit there much; the villagers came to see her. Rachel rarely left the great house.
Situated on the skirt of the Devon moorlands below Trentishoe, fastened to an anchor of rock the coastal storms would never harm, the Ellingswood holdings were now in only the hands of Thornton, a sole heir. He would have no son. Rachel would own more land than any person in the county, if she grew to adulthood, but, her husband would have the place to do with as he wished. If she lived.
Forty villagers there were who loved the little girl. But they were only part of the family of friends who whispered her name with their nightly prayers. An hour away, her doctor, and his staff, and the good hearts in the city hospital that cared for her many times in those four precious years, they also treasured her. Thornton, and his wife Selia could count on many hands to help, but minutes sometimes marked how close Rachel would come to that last breath in their arms. An hour - ?
“Get her off the coast, Thornton!” her doctor begged, that last time he stood beside her bed. Kinsey knew the first words that he would say when he stomped his muddy, breathless steps into Rachel‟s room later in the day. He had been sent for, and he would hurry. He would warn them again. They must leave the Manor or she would die.
Kinsey could glimpse it at last in her master‟s eyes…Thornton Ellingswood finally understood.
“Maggie, keep someone in this room until the doctor arrives.”
“Miss Kinsey, come with us please,” he asked her, with a hand extended in kindness.
Rachel‟s nanny, and her parents left the room together, and a few breaths later, the household went back to their routine. Maggie pulled her chair close by the bed and watched the room empty while she held two tiny hands within her own. She would stay until the doctor showed himself. Kinsey would not return for a great while. Rachel seemed only to sleep peacefully. Maggie listened intently to every breath from the tiny child.
“Please sit with me, Kinsey,” Selia gestured, reaching to the young woman behind her husband. Thornton had paused without thinking, just between the divan and his desk, to check his watch, hurrying the doctor with the force of his will.
“Was anything different this morning?”
“Yes Ma‟am. I found her dressed. She was up and about, nearly as well as yesterday, Ma‟am.”
“Do you know how long she was gone?” Thornton asked.
“No, sir, I don‟t.”
“You had not come into the room before you found her?”
“Pardon me, sir, yes I had,” Kinsey assured them. “I had opened her curtains at the normal time, and she was still sleepin when I went t‟ the kitchen for her bit o‟ toast. I didn‟ think she would wake before I came back.”
“But she was dressed as we found her?”
“Yes, Sir. I was gone perhaps a quarter-hour. Maggie might have checked on her, I didn‟ ask. She was in the library this mornin‟, she might have gone.”
“How did you find her?”
“Sittin‟. She was limp at first. We were terrified t‟ touch her.”
“She was sitting?” Selia interrupted.
“Yes, Ma‟am…” Kinsey brightened. She knew it was a hopeful thing to say, until she remembered and had to fully explain, “but, she was barely breathin‟ this time. Tha‟s why we were so careful.”
Selia looked at her husband, and they both lost the instant of hopefulness that Rachel‟s posture on the floor had brought to their minds. Most of their daughter‟s episodes followed a pattern they wished deeply would change. The entire household was watchful for any alteration in the deathly faints that would send the child crashing to the floor, and put her in her bed sometimes for days. “Keep watchful for any difference, and alert me,” her doctor was careful to admonish them, with each visit.
Rachel‟s new faint was so deeply met; she barely was breathing when she was found. This change was not one anyone wished to witness; it clearly meant the faints were worsening.
Rachel Ellingswood had only been walking for a year. She had only been talking for that year. Play was something new to her, she did not understand what it meant to run. But she could smile. With all her energy, it seemed to remake her entirely when she smiled, and her smiles were repaid with laughter and kisses. Any breath of happiness would bring a reward. Parts of the year, the learning to walk, the few new shared sounds that would become musical speech, those parts of the year has been terrifying, and gratifying; a tormenting mixture of emotions for her parents. With each advance, she endured her torment of the fainting, and the near deathlike wasting in bed until she awoke again. And every heart in the great house, prayed for every breath she would take.
Her parents were so weary they could hardly exist away from the house. Selia never left anymore. Thornton would leave, never until the last possible moment, and would always thunder back to the Manor, overwrought with worry, his business and their needs attended with all the speed that he could make. Their affairs and family business were strained to the point of breaking, but still, they were understood, by every person who knew the family – to be parents in desperate need for their child to be well. Not even callous business associates would dare hold Thornton Ellingswood in a moment‟s delay, when he closed his books and extended his hands to say farewell and rush home.
Yet, for a month, she had been doing so well, her parents themselves had gotten a bit of rest. Sleep, however, was never enough rest they really needed. There was no rest from the alarm. This time, she had barely been breathing when found.
Kinsey could see the depth of their worry.
Thornton moved the last steps to his desk and thumbed the page of a brown leather book, which lay open near the remains of his breakfast. When he set his pen to the page, Kinsey continued to explain the event.
Thornton kept pace with her words, writing with vigor.
“We thought we were doin‟ well with her,” she continued. “I had her hands, and she was tryin‟ to rise. But she jerked forward. Tha‟ is when we called for you, Sir.”
“Could she dress herself so well?” Selia asked.
“Oh, yes Ma‟am. She was splendid yesterday. I let her put on her shoes, and it looked tha‟ she might have done again this mornin‟.”
“So she did not go rigid, until you were helping her from the floor.”
“Yes, Sir. She was movin‟ herself, in my hands.”
Thornton gazed quietly at Kinsey, but still held his watch, nervously opening and closing the clasp. The clicking of the clasp drew Kinsey‟s glance, and she watched his hand, the play of his fingers around the circle of the watch, and the sway of the fob hanging from his waistcoat pocket. Between the clicks of the claps, the hiss of his pen tip left the page in the book on the desk.
“We don‟t know how long she was fainted,” he mused, almost to himself, leaving his pen to lie still for a moment.
“No, sir, I‟m sorry. I just don‟ know how long it was,” Kinsey apologized. She felt the gentle squeeze of Selia‟s fingers, and suddenly realized, the whole time they sat in the study talking, and her mistress had been holding her hand.
It broke Kinsey‟s heart, these two people, she had grown to love well, were so tormented; she wanted very much to be better help to them, but they reached sometimes to comfort her themselves, and they were the ones in sorest need of it.
Doctor Gilbert would listen quietly to every word of Kinsey‟s explanation again that afternoon, after reading Thornton‟s careful notes. She would relive the morning, at his very side, while he surveyed and caressed little Rachel in her bed, wondering at the event, and wondering at its results. Gilbert had actually come close to abandoning his search for a cause. There was nothing in this illness that he had ever seen or heard described, so the cause was likely to remain forever unknown. His concerns were now to her future; what was happening to the little girl?…each time Death paused to linger so closely, and terrify everyone around the Ellingswood family.
When Rachel fell into her stupors, it was as if she were no longer there, she never responded to any attempt to arouse her once her eyes had closed to the world.
Liam Gilbert would remain for the night at the Manor, and not leave Rachel‟s room.
“To faint and wake, is a normal event, which rarely causes harm,” Dr. Gilbert began, when Selia entered Rachel‟s room the next morning. She had come in to merely glance to the bed, almost hourly, the entire night.
He had begged her to sleep and even offered to give her something to help, but she would only smile her lovely, sad smile, and fade from the room. “Until now, her faints were all so very normal, even if they endured beyond our understanding,” he concluded.
“But, she is only fainted?” Selia whispered.
“No. I no longer think she is,” Gilbert replied, following Selia‟s gaze to the child in the great bed. The room brightened around them quickly, but softly; Maggie had entered to pull the curtains aside. Kinsey would have done, but she slept soundly on the divan at the bedside, across from where Selia had paused.
“Would you like a bite brought here Ma‟am?”
“Thank you, Maggie. Please do that. Doctor Gilbert, you must be exhausted yourself.”
“Selia, I am more at ease with a loss of sleep than you, even though you insist you can bear this. You cannot,”
he lightly touched her shoulder, but lingered his hand beneath her dark hair, and brought some weight to the gesture, the weight his words carried in their tone. “I will lose you as well, if you cannot convince your husband to abandon this house, for Rachel‟s sake, and yours.”
She brought her hand up from the bedclothes, to place it over his strong hand, and without looking at him; she eased his mind at last with very simple words,
“He is ready to leave now, Liam,” she offered.
“I am glad to hear that.”
“Yesterday frightened us as no other has. We really believed she had died.”
Selia turned to show him her face; he could see the age that worry had added to her. Four difficult years had brought the appearance of more than ten years to her eyes. She wore the pain beautifully, still, but it marked her.
Without thinking, Gilbert measured the same effect as he had seen it in Thornton‟s face, as they hurriedly spoke while the doctor was brought from his carriage, into the house, and at last into Rachel‟s room the afternoon before. Gilbert had hoped the obvious worry meant that Thornton would finally agree to leave Ellingswood Manor. Now, it seemed the worry had turned properly to terror. They would leave the place, from the dread of staying. Gilbert was not happy to attain his desire at last, but he was thankful.
Breakfast came gently into the room. Maggie was whispering directions, but allowed each of the staff to pause at Rachel‟s bedside, to merely look at the child, or to caress her tiny hand. Within moments, they were all gone again, and Kinsey continued to sleep peacefully on the divan.
Gilbert walked from the bedside, removing his hand from Selia‟s shoulder, but she held it with her own as he moved away. They parted the touch when he moved completely away to survey the cart, and the trays of food that had been brought. Someone knew that he would request something for Rachel. There were three small cups on the tray; one of a cool juice, one of milk, and one of a clear broth – lightly warmed. He was famished, having only bolted a bit of dinner as he sat beside the child, hours ago, but he reached for nothing for himself yet. He lifted the cup of milk and brought it to the bedside again. Selia had not moved.
“Let‟s see if she can drink this morning,” he said.
Kinsey woke to gentle whispers. She was mortified that the house was about its routine, that she had slept so late, but a smile from Selia eased her distress.
“You were here all night, darling. You needed to rest,” was all she said.
“Thank you, Ma‟am,” Kinsey flushed, “but, I can sit with her now, so you can talk with the doctor.”
“We will just be in the study.”
Kinsey smoothed her hair away from her face, and pulled a ribbon from her dress pocket, tied her hair back loosely, and took the chair that Gilbert had occupied the entire night. She heard the others leave the room, but she did not look up. Rachel was very pale, and seemed less relaxed than she had during the night. Kinsey would watch, as Maggie had watched. They expected the darling, perhaps dying child, to cease breathing again. The young woman observed the girl from only inches away, but strained against the sounds of the clock on the mantle, to hear the faint breaths from the pillowed head.
Kinsey stroked her tiny hands, and began to hum a gentle lullaby. She was unaware of the tears that came, and she absently began to work her mind the way Thornton had worked his pen in the book on his study desk – she noted against her memory, how this faint caught little Rachel, and how it compared to all the other events.
Kinsey had seen every one, and now cried each time they came to the child.
“Thornton, I will arrange lodging in my wing at the hospital for Rachel and Selia, this very afternoon. I would like them to come tomorrow, Rachel needs only rest today,” Gilbert said into his coffee cup. He watched Thornton intently, almost expecting the familiar argument. It did not come.
Thornton was seated, leaning a distance from his desktop, but reaching to the book that contained nearly a hundred pages, a diary of every faint his daughter endured; he gently stroked the page with his fingertips. Instead of speaking to Gilbert, he merely nodded. Selia‟s voice filled the silence in the moment.
“Can we risk moving her, so soon, dangerous as this was?”
“I think we should, even though she seems more deeply affected,” Gilbert replied. “She needs to be just down the hall from proper help now, not out here.” He glanced instantly at Thornton, and was again relieved that no argument was made. “Bring Maggie or Kinsey with you in the carriage. Come very early. We will give you breakfast at the hospital.”
“What does this change mean to you, so odd a beginning, so deep the faint?” Thornton asked with hesitation.
Gilbert did not immediately answer.
“That these episodes are not mere stupors,” he replied. “People rouse from a swoon within a modest time, they are usually limp and calm, their breathing very relaxed or only quickened.” He shifted slowly in his chair, to face Selia more directly. “Rachel was less relaxed this time, her whole body was tensed, and it nearly ceased her breath. You kept her alive, Thornton. And you couldn‟t have done it much longer than you did.”
“But what does that mean?” Thornton sought again.
“The more profound the loss of consciousness, the less likely she will awake unaffected.”
Thornton and Selia shared a lingering glance, mirrors of one another‟s concern. Gilbert only watched them, and let the power of his words force their understanding. He had never told them, but he never was concerned that Rachel‟s episodes might become more frequent. When awake, she was actually healthy. He knew there was little harm done in a gentle swoon. He knew several young ladies who affected them, almost at will. Gilbert had been searching for something that he kept to himself, for the year that Thornton kept such careful notes. Gilbert dreaded what had finally come, Rachel was not fainting, and he had never found a physical cause.
He kept a near-copy of Thornton‟s diary in his own office, at the hospital. His colleagues knew it well – he was forever sharing it, forever seeking their advice. None knew of such a sickness, in so young a child, which appeared without pattern, stayed without regular duration, and passed without any mark but perhaps fatigue for a few hours.
That Rachel was slow to develop coordination and speech; those never concerned him either. His own younger brother had not spoken a word until nearly five. Learning the truth of his sibling‟s deafness was one of the things that put Gilbert, with such determination, into his studies of medicine. No - Rachel was not hindered in her development by the faints, in any way that Dr. Gilbert had ever been able to document.
As distressing to her family as they were, the collapses had only ever seemed dangerous in the moments that it took to get her comfortably into her bed. They were always so careful to move her, because she might have been injured when she fell to the floor. She had never before fainted and ceased to breathe as well.
Gilbert had suspected it might eventually happen, thus his insistence that the Ellingswoods leave the coast and make their home in Barnstaple. Rachel‟s continued health, between the terrifying events, had always been her father‟s key to remain where they were. It was terrible that he could no longer make that argument, and it was terrible that Gilbert could no longer keep his greatest fears from them. The strange condition had made some truths imperative now. The change had come.
“I have been studying the phenomenon of coma,” he stated with caution, “It is similar to delirious symptoms we often see in the deeply disturbed or injured persons brought to the hospital.”
“What is it?” Selia asked.
“A profound sleep,” he replied. “I have read of patients who could sit in such a state, or might appear to be awake at times, but all are immobile. Patients have been described as catatonic,” he enunciated the word very slowly. “Trauma can cause it, and alone, untreated, it can cause death. However, coma does not come and go. It happens suddenly, and the patient usually perishes.”
“Have you found anyone with her same condition?”
It had been asked before, nearly at every opportunity to discuss their daughter with Gilbert. His answer to it never wavered in a hopeful direction.
“No, Thornton. I have not; nor have my colleagues. Rachel alone begins to suddenly sleep as she does, without any discernible cause. No one, so young, does this. A German psychiatrist in Gorlitz has described much of what I understand about this. But he does not exactly describe Rachel‟s condition.”
“What will be done to Rachel, at the hospital?” Selia questioned tremulously. Thornton gave her a reassuring glance, but it did not seem to stay her nervousness.
“We can only watch her, but with more being learned from it, than that diary has been able to teach us.”
Gilbert replied. “She will not lapse lethargic without someone noticing instantly.”
He had not meant that to sound as a criticism; it would have been out of place to express such a thought. The entire household was diligent in their care. But the previous morning‟s incident had changed everything, including the manners of speech that Gilbert had been so earnest to project as calm. The time for calm discussions had passed.
“We will try to observe the patterns our diary has not been able to illuminate, and we will try to rouse her in ways that cannot be done here in the Manor,” he stated. Neither parent had shifted their gaze towards him; they continued to speak to one another in ways he could not see. He pressed them more openly with his fears.
“Yesterday, Rachel fell in a stupor so deep that she ceased to breath. Every episode may have that affect now.
I would not guess how long she could survive, falling into a coma sleep, without some means to keep her breathing.”
Thornton leaned forward onto his elbows, the diary between them. “We have only talked of fainting. Why now mention the subject of coma?”
“Because it is the only loss of consciousness and reflex, which appears similar to hers, and…” he halted, judging their readiness to hear the explanation, “I have not found a case of the patient waking, to a normal life.
Any who wake, seem to exist only, never to thrive again.”
“You believe this will become her condition,” Thornton stared intently at the book on his desk.
“I fear, Thornton, Selia, that your daughter might not be able to wake again, even if she does not die. Perhaps very soon it will happen.”
“How do you care for her?…if she does not wake?”
“Thornton, I cannot say. We have no understanding here. But…” he paused, “if she does not wake, you can do nothing for her here.”
“Thorn?” Selia seemed to plead, and with her eyes as well. She was desperate that he would consent to go; she would have gone long ago, so terrible was her dread, but, her husband alone could sever the bonds that held them to their beloved home. They might be leaving, to never return.
Her husband only rose from his chair and slowly closed the book that had remained under his hand the entire conversation. For a year, he had written in vain, but had done it so carefully. No one could guess how strong the temptation struck him, to heft the book into the fireplace behind his desk. Nothing written within it had helped them. Nothing was certain for them at all now, but the Ellingswoods would quit the coast.
Kinsey suddenly burst into the room.
“No!” Gilbert exclaimed, disbelieving.
As they rushed the hallway to Rachel‟s bedroom, Gilbert huffed, “I will take her with me this instant! Selia, get your things…we won‟t waste this moment!”
The entire house was roused, and moving with a great noise from every corner. Maggie met them with as much surprise as they brought into the room; she was beaming, and she fairly pulled them into the doorway.
Rachel was sitting up, bright eyed, nibbling on an edge of toast, oblivious to the crumbs, but delighted to see so many smiles, so early in the morning. Her feet were brushing one another as she wiggled her pink toes together.
“I dressed!” she sang to them. “But, the shoes are off!”
seeking some cause
The sun ceaselessly baked it, the sea salted it with early morning fogs, the wind ravaged it until it wearied of the effort; from the village below, Ellingswood Manor seemed about to plunge into the sea, so quickly did the hill fall away from the proud west wing. From any balcony on that wing the truth could be seen: they were still a good jog distant from the precipice, a rocky, cliffed shore, without any beach for many miles in any direction.
None in the village visited the shore there. It could not be done; in fact, a tower on that wing had, in years passed, been a lighthouse, ever watchful over the rocks where the Bristol channel united with the sea. Whale oil lamps would warn mariners during the worst weather, they were near a dangerous place. Only some twenty-five miles across the channel, Wales did nothing to protect the Devon coast from the assault of the winter storms. So old now, even Thornton - master of the entire estate, did not know which came first in his family‟s history, the lighthouse, or the Manor.
A quarter mile from the massive house, but no closer to the edge of the cliff, sat the village of Ellingswood; Thornton‟s ancestors once owned every stone of the place. With dwellings which were low, rock and thatch, only the color of the stones from which they were made, it was a smallish place of ten hardy families. There was no church for them, but the Manor welcomed them to use the chapel in the east wing. Not a family name had changed in the chapel registry for a hundred years; though nothing would have prevented any new house being built there, Ellingswood was a place that only existed, and did not grow.
The villagers did not need a beach, or boats, they had enough of the sea when it would bluster over the cliff and howl between their homes for days on end. The Ellingswood villagers were sheep farmers. Thornton had no doubt about the history of the sheep; they clearly came before everything else. His family very likely found the first wild herds there, and stayed; perhaps raising the older buildings in the village. Thornton was only certain of this; his was the sixth generation to call the Manor home. How long an Ellingswood had walked those hills between the moorlands and the sea?…it was just not known.
He dwelt many places in his youth, yet was never truly gone; he was educated on the continent, but loved the Manor, perched between only cotton-grass and clouds, and constantly under the breath of the sea. He had, not strangely, been drawn to be a mariner, and would stand at the cliffs as even a young boy, wondering at the waves below, and the fury their winds sometimes brought to his bedroom windows. But his crossings of the Channel, on his travels to and from school, stayed those desires – destroyed them; Thornton Ellingswood would own the boats, he would never sail in them, without need.
Traveling as he had, Thornton never found anything that drew him with such power as the Manor would, until he met his Selia. Brown eyed and witty, her father was the Spanish ambassador to France, she captured him instantly. An exquisite, younger version of her English mother, there was nothing of Spanish blood to be seen in her, but her father‟s flashing eyes. Without a thought she might hate the desolation and isolation of his birthplace, „Thorn‟ married her in France, and brought her home with him. His family had rejoiced at the surprise. She rejoiced at the sight of her new home. Selia‟s letters of joy to her parents stilled their own misgivings that her choice would be a happy one, though there was no doubt, her new husband was a man of very secure wealth and means. They belonged together, and they belonged there at the ancient Manor.
Dr. Gilbert understood that passion, long before he began to beg them leave there, for Rachel.
Rachel Ellingswood; the last child who would be born in the Ellingswood Manor. Being impetus to that change - of a history nearly as old as the hills around them - Gilbert knew what it meant for them to leave. But either way, there in the city, or here on the coast – if Rachel died, the Manor would crumble in grief around them all. Selia and Thornton both gazed back to the darkened house as Gilbert‟s carriage sped them along the lane, down to the village. A dozen figures stood quietly on the terrace, their devoted staff, watching the family rush for Barnstaple. Rachel was on her mother‟s lap, looking with wonder, out to sea.
Kinsey pushed lightly on the massive door, and instantly noticed the fragrance of lilies. The bedroom was bright, even though the sun no longer graced the lovely windows. A breeze pushed against the door for a moment, and she slipped inside, letting the door close softly behind her at the insistence of the breeze. It was not her duty to tidy or clean in any of the rooms upstairs, but she had not come up to do that at all.
As large as the library, this room could easily have been dark and forbidding, the woodwork did much to counter any light from the windows, but there were so many of those, and very tall. The rugs were beautiful, and from different lands that Thornton had traveled in his youth, little of the floor was bare.
It seemed a perfectly appointed room; yet, she had always disliked the placement of the bedstead. It seemed in the wrong corner, and never was cheered by any sunbeams, even on the brightest mornings. Neither of Rachel‟s parents cared to sleep late, so the only dark corner in the room seemed an odd place to leave the bed, when it would have been happier in a windowed corner. Kinsey mused having it moved, to suit her own whim…but, it would never be done.
Her feet brought her to the room for the silence. That she loved. There was no other space in the great house that could hush every sound. Centered in the spine of the house it did not look openly out to the countryside, for on either side of the expanse of windows, were the great east and west wings of the Manor; they partly enclosed the view, and anchored the silence. Not even the sea could be heard there, with the windows thrown completely open. The master bedroom was always open to Rachel, when she felt well, and the two of them would spend hours alone there. Until Rachel began to use her voice, every visit had been sweetly silent, even in gentle play on the floor with whatever toys Rachel desired to carry along. Kinsey needed that silence, and hurried to find it in that wonderful room as the carriage took Rachel away from them.
She was still for just a moment, then her fingers found things to touch – a pleasure she would not dare to take in many other rooms of her employer‟s house. She did not think, herself, that she was doing anything odd, even in her master and mistress‟s private rooms, it was something she would do without hesitation, a familiarity that would have suggested those things were really hers. But she left that off quickly, going instead to the hidden closet to remove sheets from the topmost shelves above the clothes. She didn‟t intend to disturb or tidy anything in the room at all.
“Good God, Kinsey, here you be! I was about to stand under the stairs and just shout your name to the eaves!
No one could find you.”
“I‟m sorry, Maggie. I just needed somethin‟ else t‟ be busy „bout,” Kinsey explained. She had gone inside, after the carriage passed into the haze down the coast, and went to the family chambers to begin covering the furnishings. It really had been a mindless task, and she needed the comfort of silence.
“Silly girl!” Maggie smiled, reaching to take a folded sheet from the younger woman‟s hands. “You haven‟t time for this; you have to prepare to follow them in the morning!”
“Kinsey…you are going to stay with Rachel. All the instructions for the house have been given. You have nothing to do up here.”
Kinsey could hardly believe it, this was certainly unexpected news to her. Nothing had been said to her at all, as the family hurried to pack Rachel‟s belongings and help her out to the coach. No one had appointed her a single task, amid all the bustle and confusion. Kinsey had been hiding such a burden of distress, she had not noticed…only a few tiny night dresses had been gathered for Rachel. Nothing for the child had yet been packed.
“I wouldn‟t mind being allowed to go, myself,” Maggie whispered, taking Kinsey‟s hands. “But, I‟m to run the house, and you are Rachel‟s nanny. You will gather her belongings now, and your own. You will stay at the hospital with her.”
“But Master Thornton, Mistress Selia?”
“Girl, why concern yourself with them? You have the child to look after. Go on! Get downstairs and put people to their tasks! You must be off after breakfast!”
“No, I don‟ understand!” Kinsey protested. “What should I gather? What will she need?”
“Don‟t fret about it too much, Kinsey. It will be her home now, and for a while too. Take the things she will love, and all her clothing. I would gather as much for myself, if I were you.”
“Will we never return here?”
“Darlin‟, I don‟t know…” Maggie gazed about their master‟s bedroom, not wanting to see it forever empty of life. “I want you back already!”
She hushed Kinsey and shoved her to the door.
“You will need trunks from the attic, but you best get things piled on Rachel‟s bed first, so we know how many to fetch.”
Kinsey hurried down the carpeted hallway to the stairs; lightly enough she hardly made a sound. Maggie had surprised her with the news, so unexpected, and really quite frightening. Kinsey would move to the city! She would return to Rachel‟s side by morning!
It was wonderful to have that smile on her face, where a sad frown had settled. Dr. Gilbert would have liked very much to see it. There was much about Kinsey, which drew his gaze; even when he was deep in thought and worry at little Rachel‟s bedside. A smile would have quickly caught his attention again. But those pleasures were his secret alone. Kinsey had no thought she might be attractive to the important fellow.
She spent the remainder of the day making as much commotion among the staff as Maggie herself could stir.
None complained. Having Rachel awaken to such brightness had warmed them all and swept the truth of the rush to the hospital completely from their minds. Kinsey‟s orders were obeyed, and quickly, because Rachel would need those things in the morning. It was never once worried that she might not return; or at least, it was never allowed to linger on any heart, and slow them to get her packed. As evening descended, so did the rumble of trunks, being pulled in a parade down the numerous stairways, from the storage attics under the highest beams of the house.
Kinsey did not go down to the kitchen for a bite, until the last trunk lid was latched. When morning came, nothing would have to be done but the loading. She sat in the warmth of the kitchen, musing to herself what it must be like to awaken in Barnstaple - to city sounds beneath her windows, and not to the pounding of distant waves upon ancient rock.
The passing of time uncounted; the other staff very busy with their own tasks, so no one about to chatter with – Kinsey only slowly realized that she was alone, completely, and the kitchen fires had gone out. She knew the hour was late, that her departure in the morning light would not be late. She rose from her comfort at last and took herself to bed, putting out every candle as she passed. It might be the last night she spent in her beautiful room in that Manor, but her thoughts were on the child, nowhere else, and certainly not lingering on fears for her own future. She was soon in bed, allowing herself to be drowsy, listing all the items she might not have packed, but would eventually need. It was only a very small list of things, and did not hinder her falling asleep.
More than twenty miles from the coast, in the darkened rooms appointed to her by the hospital Governors, Rachel fell asleep; her weary mother nearby, and her sleep was quite real, nourishing. She had not been alone for a second, since the few minutes the morning before, on the floor of her nursery; she would never be alone again, for as long as she lived.
A great row, beneath her window, woke Kinsey the next morning, as the sun brought a hint of crimson to the sky over the sea; one of the draft horses had stepped on a driver‟s foot as they were readying the wagons beneath the stairs to receive the trunks from the main hall – the man was cursing and being abused with mirth by his companions. Kinsey stretched her toes to the very foot of the bed and pushed against the mahogany headboard with her hands. She pushed and stretched until she felt her toes reach the footboard, and she lay in blissful warmth for a few moments more, but suddenly realizing, she might step to that floor, from that bed, for the very last time. It energized her, it excited her, and it was frightening. There was no doubt to her, she was leaving home, with no surety of return, just as her little Rachel had done.
There were trunks to organize, and they would be calling for her.
Almost as if beckoned, Maggie led two other girls into the room, one carrying a tray of juice and coffee, another carrying a tray of toast and jams. Kinsey barely had time to ease the luxury of her stretch against the bed, when Maggie upbraided her,
“Lazy heifer. Ring your bells and get out of that bed!”
Kinsey yawned, but pushed against the beams of the bed one more time, to feel the familiar strength of them, and to be naughty. Maggie supported her demands by pulling the quilts away and gesturing for Kinsey‟s hand, as she might an unruly child.
“I will give you exactly five minutes to eat some breakfast, then you must be dressed before the last trunk is loaded!” she huffed, without threat. “I should have guessed you would be the last one awake in the house, with your duties absent, waiting for you in town.”
Both of the kitchen maids giggled. Kinsey groaned as she withdrew from her embrace with the bedstead and rolled to take Maggie‟s hand, which was now being offered, not issued.
“Will I be goin‟ alone?”
“Well of course girl,” Maggie replied, “We have our duties to attend here, we can‟t all be off on such a grand adventure as you. Now, get up!” and she tossed Kinsey‟s hand back to her with a smile. She pushed against the kitchen maids to hurry them out the door, and with a cough to catch her attention again; she raised her eyebrows at Kinsey, to hurry her as well.
Kinsey was disinclined to hurry. The excitement was grand indeed, but it did not hide the hint of sadness which had crept into her heart. It was indeed home, that she was leaving.
A strapping horse could run hard to Barnstaple in an hour. The wagons would take three. They would be three of the most uncertain hours that Kinsey would spend alone; only questions in her mind to entertain her as the moors became heath and the hills fell away in the distance. She would not see trees for an hour, and she missed them. The manor had nothing of trees, only some well tended shrubs, and the village had no shrubs higher than their gardens. The vast Ellingswood lands were all of grass, crowberry and rock - and sky. She loved it there but felt small in the emptiness.
To pass the time in that emptiness, Kinsey tried to imagine what that night had been like for Rachel.
When they began to witness other wagons, other riders on the road, she knew they were nearing the edges of town. The hospital was on that near side of town, one of the first imposing buildings to rise up and greet her as she made her way into the more tended, populated outskirts of the river city.
Kinsey moved in her seat, to be more against the door, to see directly ahead and watch for the great building to appear.
“Where is Kinsey, Mummy?”
“She will be here after breakfast, Love.” Selia replied, running her fingers into Rachel‟s golden hair to remove the night‟s tangles.
“May I wear my nightie till she comes?”
“Yes, Darling, you may lie in bed and have jam and toast until she arrives.” Selia smiled. “We can be as lazy as we like this morning. Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, I did. Will Kinsey bring my dollie?”
“I‟m sure of it. She will bring all of them, just for you.”
Rachel smiled and wiggled her toes together, quite pleased to be in bed with her toast. She gazed around the room, almost thoughtfully, learning the unfamiliar look of it, but very aware that nothing of hers was anywhere to be seen. She knew she had been in a different room the last time she woke in the hospital. She knew that is where she was, in that very strange bed, in that very bare room, with her lovely toast spilling crumbs onto the very white sheets. Hardly much else of that last hospital stay could be remembered, nothing at all could be of the earlier visits, and there had been quite a few.
She awoke to her mother‟s smile, on the second floor of the south wing. There were rooftops in her uncurtained window view. Had her father held her there she might have seen the ships on the river, little more than a mile away. It was a bright morning, and the thinly furnished room was gleaming.
“Good morning, Ladies!” Dr. Gilbert sang in the doorway.
Rachel turned from the window, where her wandering gaze had settled, to smile, and the toast still between her teeth as she did it. She bounced her feet.
“I see you have been a very good girl this morning,” he said to her.
“An angel, she is so sweet,” Selia whispered, as if the praise were to remain a secret.
“May I hear your Angel‟s heart?” he asked as he sat on the bed and played at pulling away the toast. Rachel grinned.
Dr. Gilbert pulled from his pocket, his stethoscope, and wiggled the tubes into his ears with a funny smile, and put the metal hearing disc directly onto Rachel‟s nose.
She blew him a sneeze.
They were silent, but kept their smiles, never wavering their gaze from one another‟s eyes, as he listened to her heart beneath her chest, then from behind at her back, then listened again for a moment to her toes for good measure.
“Like the very waves beneath the rocks at the Manor, steady and strong,” he assured her mother as he continued the tickles on Rachel‟s toes. “This seems to have been a strong recovery this time, but so sudden to start, so quickly to end. It is a change that I would welcome again.”
Selia drew her eyebrows together for an instant.
“Strength is always to be praised. We will seek every way we can to make her stronger every day,” Gilbert explained. “But, Madam, you are tired.”
Selia drew her lips into half a smile, to dismiss him.
“I will not allow it. You may have control of yourself only for today, then tonight you will follow my instructions.” When she began to roll her eyes at him, he insisted, “And so shall your stubborn husband. I will not have you fall as patients under my care as well; I haven‟t the time for either of you.”
“I will rest, I promise,” Selia admitted, “when Kinsey arrives.”
“I expect her here within the hour. Will you come to my office to see me? Your husband is already there, with two of my colleagues, trying to fill the gaps in my year of notes.”
Selia smiled and nodded her head, turning away to give her smile to Rachel, still munching her toast, but playing with the dangled end of the stethoscope. Dr. Gilbert made it wiggle a bit, before giving them his good morning, and giving Rachel‟s toes his parting kiss.
She beamed at him, but did not forget the toast.
Her smile beneath the toast became a giggle, because at that very moment, Kinsey came brightly into the room, her arms extended in welcome, two dollies in either hand.
“Am I to be sick again Kinsey?”
„Deathly ill dear, I‟m afraid,” she pretended to be very grave. Selia and Rachel both drew their hands to their mouths, agape with a perfect mimic of terror, but for the giggles
“What is the matter with me?” Rachel whispered behind her hand, and trying desperately to perform as well as Kinsey.
“My darlin‟, you have…the wobbles!” and she took one of the dollies and pretended that it could walk upon the bed, but very wobbly doing so. Rachel clutched at it, to hold it dear and care for its hurts. Selia held her hands out to receive a precious baby dollie to hold and comfort as well.
“What will happen to us?” Rachel pretended.
“Your hair will become as gold as wheat, and your eyes will go suddenly green…an‟ it will pink your toes!”
Rachel wiggled her toes and screeched.
Kinsey came to her at last to kiss her cheeks, and began to tell of the adventures of the wagon ride, and to share kisses from those left waiting at the Manor the afternoon before.
“Doctor Gilbert wants me to come to his office, may I leave dearest?”
“Yes Mummy. May I have more toast?”
Kinsey glanced up, trying to look peckish and hopeful. It made Selia laugh.
“You may eat all the toast in the hospital, if they will bring it to you.”
“And more jam!”
“I will make sure they bring jam,” and Selia kissed her, and then paused to put her hands on Kinsey‟s cheeks in thanks.
“Are you well, Ma‟am?”
“I am fine Kinsey. I‟ve promised to rest now that you‟ve arrived.”
“We will begin our studies anew, with a twofold purpose.” Gilbert explained to her parents later. They were gathered into his comfortable office, a few of his colleagues attending, with two of the nursing staff as well.
Thornton offered his chair, but the nurses smiled and declined to take it.
“We will learn all we may about Rachel, how strong she is, how to make her stronger. And we will learn all we can about the stupors which come so suddenly. We have to wait for the next one, to begin to learn more about them. But about Rachel, and her immediate health, we can begin today.”
Standing in front of the fire grate, leaning on the mantle, one of his colleagues, Doctor Stiles, spoke up,
“I and one of the nurses...” he indicated one of the ladies aside, “will assist Doctor Gilbert in putting Rachel to work, to test her strength.”
“We intend to exercise her stamina, and make her exert herself, in ways you might have been timid to try at home,” Gilbert assured her parents. “We have an apparatus which will assist her breathing, should any problem arise, and she will be in no danger here. I think we can agree, some mild exertion to begin will be no harm, no more so that your efforts at home to get her comfortably to bed at the onset of a faint.”
Thornton looked on with obvious concern, but it did not shake his equally obvious agreement. Selia continued to look tired, only listening, hoping for encouragement.
“We will time every activity, even the smallest. We will take her on walks, we will give her things to carry, we will show her the hospital and the grounds,” and he halted, “and every moment, one of the nurses will be at hand, with the breathing apparatus, should Rachel stumble.”
The nurse he indicated smiled and inclined her head.
On the mantle, unseen behind Stiles, an ornate clock began a whirring readiness to chime, and the notes were surprisingly sweet, soft. Selia counted each one, instead of listening to the continued conversation. The clock struck nine, the last ringing note hung behind the voices, and Selia felt the weight of the night of worry descend, as the chime faded away. She knew the time, it would be ten in the morning, but the tenth stroke seemed timid, it hesitated. She waited for the tenth note to chime – didn‟t the others notice it had been delayed? Weariness caused her to falter. The single window was filling half the room with light when she entered, but it seemed the sun was gone now, and the room was fading into shadows around her.
“Madam Ellingswood, I‟m sorry,” Gilbert stood from his desk chair, “I must insist now that you sacrifice any pretense of strength -”
Several hands came to her, and Selia only noticed that she was no longer sitting in the comfortable chair in Gilbert‟s office, but where she was being taken, she no longer cared.
Thornton sat beside her, on the floor of Gilbert‟s outer office. She lay quieting upon a pillowed divan, already breathing deeply in slumber from the tincture of opium that Gilbert provided; she had been insensate when it was administered, but was now sleeping naturally. Thornton noticed; Gilbert had prepared a second draught.
“I won‟t need that.”
“I won‟t be asking,” Gilbert said offhand, as he put the laudanum back into his cupboard, but came forward, with the glass, between the nurses as the others went about their duties, leaving the outer office quietly for Selia.
“I will go straightaway to the apartment, in a few moments,” Thornton looked up, “I only want to know a bit more about how you will care for Rachel.”
“As we said, we will test her. But we will try to find some activity that seems to precede the stupor. We have never noted anything physical that triggers its onset, but there has to be something.”
Thornton did not seem to be assured. The idea of pushing Rachel to the brink of another attack did not sit easily on her father‟s heart.
“I entreat you to be cautious,” he commanded quietly, shifting himself a bit beside his wife. “I have no desire to see her lifeless again. I could not bear those moments yesterday, she seemed already dead.”
“She is safer here than she was at home, you know that.”
“What will you do, when the next faint comes?”
Gilbert pulled a plush chair beside the divan, and motioned Thornton to rise into it, to get himself up more comfortably, the bare floor was surely cold and very hard. While he did so, Gilbert began to explain,
“We will make every attempt to rouse her from her faint.”
“We will alternately apply stimulus, heat and cold, pressure upon her skin, vapors – electricity.”
“Electricity? Isn‟t that a dangerous parlor trick?”
“Nearly all our modern medicine has stemmed from once dangerous parlor tricks, Thornton. We must find a way to awaken your daughter when she lapses into sleep. If we can find that key, we may determine the cause from it.”
“But you admit to having seen patients who sleep as she does…”
“Yes, in a stupor nothing like hers. But, as I have said…always due to some trauma; some violence. This is not a sleeping sickness either, Thornton, Rachel has no exposure to any source of such illness nor injury. I have written about her case to nearly thirty countries seeking information. To my knowledge, no other person is known to lapse unconscious as she does. Drink this now, you will have time to walk across to the apartments.”
Thornton looked at the shot glass in Gilbert‟s hand; the liquid was amber, not brown.
“Whiskey, and a good one,” Gilbert mused. “I know you will sleep. Selia will not be awake again until morning, and we won‟t leave her here. She will be moved beside Rachel in a few hours, when the affects of the draught are deepest.”
“I‟ve not asked about the arrangements for Kinsey, the cost of Rachel‟s care,” Thornton began, as he inhaled the warmth of the whiskey, only playing the rim of the glass on his lips, as if in deep thought.
“You didn‟t notice; there is a small side room adjoining Rachel‟s. Kinsey will be furnished there, and there will be no added cost. Indeed, some of the work to study Rachel will be underwritten by the Board of Trustees.
But…you aren‟t asking anything about the funds – are you?‟
“No,” Thornton hesitated, “I‟m concerned what this will do to us, to Selia, to us as a family.”
“Thornton, you should stop living in fear that she may die. We will do our utmost for her.”
“Fear that she may die? Liam, she may die tonight, in your care.”
“Then I should refill that glass with laudanum,” Gilbert sighed, “you would do well to share Selia‟s respite from worry.”
“How can you know Rachel and not worry?”
“I do, don‟t confuse my words. But my worry for her does not cost me sleep.”
“When you have a child - that comfort will change.”
Thornton downed the whiskey in a gulp, and put his lips to his wife‟s hand. He smoothed her hair softly from her brow, and caressed his fingers down her cheek to her neck beneath her loosened lace collar. There was no hint of worry, or weariness on her face, she was relaxed and peaceful, some color in her cheeks now. The warmth of the whiskey in his throat told Thornton that he too would sleep, and he desired it. As he gazed at his wife, Gilbert observed them both, silently, from near the doorway.
Gilbert knew perfectly well that Rachel might die, even in the safety of his care. That it truly did not worry him had been an unexpected thing to hear. Thornton‟s statement had the strength of an accusation. With acceptance, but without agreement, he took Thornton‟s words, as those of a weary father. Rachel would be fine.
Gilbert would care for her as though she were his own.
It didn‟t require worry.
Rachel was too well rested, and so was Kinsey. They both wanted stretching their legs. It was the first question Gilbert had to answer as he put his head in the door an hour later, might they begin to walk about the ward? They were busy with slippers in an instant, and Rachel pleaded for a dress from one of her trunks; they had been brought noisily in while her parents were meeting the staff in Gilbert‟s office. A wink from him, and Rachel had both her hands into the mess of clothes that Kinsey had stuffed the night before, as if Christmas had arrived in her hospital room and every one of the familiar dresses were really new and unworn. She couldn‟t decide.
They were merrily out the doorway, most of the dresses piled onto the bed, and a few on the floor, and the adventure underfoot; there was a hospital to learn, and children to meet just doorways down the hall. A nurse walked behind them a few paces aback, a leather case in her arms as she might carry a child, but her pocket watch in one hand; she, marking the time.
Across the street, in the apartments only newly settled, Thornton removed his shoes and placed them gently on the rug beneath the edge of the bed, a whispered note of song already in his breath, a familiar hymn; Selia often heard that breath from him, in the first seconds as they walked into the family chapel in the Manor.
Thornton would be instantly prayerful, and he always came near to God with the hymn in his sigh, the prayer behind it as it reached his lips. He prayed earnestly for his daughter before he lay down to close his heavy eyes.
Gilbert‟s staff marked more pages of notes in a week, than he and Thornton had written carefully in a year.
Rachel did not move to do anything but that someone quickly wrote it down. By the end of that week, neither she nor Kinsey paid the staff any mind at all. They set their own routine in the morning, making regular visits now; Rachel had acquired many new friends, but the staff directed the afternoons. She would perform tasks of varying fun or difficulty, and always, a pen would find the ledger to mark the time. Eight days and nights passed before they made the expected note.
Rachel was barely finished with her dinner, on the ninth day, when she suddenly went rigid in Kinsey‟s hand; they were partly down the hallway, making another regular visit. Staff came to circle her at some inaudible command, and Kinsey found herself quickly outside that circle. It unnerved her, expected as it was; she was not allowed near.
Her tears came more quickly, at being bodily moved aside, away from her Rachel.
The child was pillowed and covered, but not moved from the hallway floor for an hour. She responded to nothing they tried, not to any attempt to rouse her. Other patients, who could rise from bed, stood in their doorways to observe, a few of them hearing no commotion at all to alert them, but merely noticing – Rachel was late in her rounds. Kinsey stood as closely by as permitted, trembling.
In the first month, it would happen three times more.
Always in the afternoon; Kinsey heard that remark after one of the last events, hardly any further down the ward hallway than that first had been. Rachel would fall in faint in the afternoon, but not awaken as she had at the Manor. There was no rhythm to her waking again. She might be clinging to life, sometimes under the breathing mask, for nearly a day, and she would require her bed for a day after. Only the onset of the event seemed to have fixed itself with some regularity.
Gilbert had written another thirty-odd letters and posted them, with updates to his colleagues in other lands.
No replies had been made, but they had not been expected. He understood that interested parties would merely await other news before making any opinion. Gilbert had little faith in finding another person afflicted as Rachel was. A less studious man would have been agitated at the one-sided conversations, but Gilbert himself applied the method to many correspondents seeking his advice. He would only give it after learning as much as possible, and waiting for news of changes in the patient. His distant colleagues inferred no urgency was required, and his notes certainly did nothing to imply it either.
He was, however, impressed by the mystery of the regularity now. Never in more than a year of observation, had Rachel been stricken in a regular interval, but now four such episodes had been recorded. Always in the afternoon. His analytical mind was excited to know there was suddenly some logic to mark. It deepened the mystery, surely, but energized him that he was not on a fruitless search for the key.
That their daughter had been stricken, four times more, renewed the grief that the Ellingswoods brought from the isolated home on the moorlands. Selia and Thornton were always to be found in the chapel at the Hospital, a sister nurse close at hand. Not a word had been mentioned between them about any return to the coast, to the cold of the Manor walls, to their home. Any other moment they were not with Gilbert, they were with Rachel.
It caused them great pain, when she was unaware of them, when she was suffering under the mask, which pulsed under the hand of the nurse or doctor who had strength to manipulate its bellows. Every event put them into the cushioned chairs at Gilbert‟s great desk.
Kinsey never left Rachel‟s side. Even if she were forced aside, she never ran to seek some quiet place to release her despair. She never entered the chapel, unless Rachel herself took her there. When she could, Rachel loved to be there with her parents, and as it was at the Manor, Kinsey allowed them to share the chapel in privacy. Herself, she was never drawn to be inside. And it was there, at the hospital chapel threshold, Kinsey felt a warm hand on her back, as Gilbert drew closely to see if Rachel were there again with her parents.
“Would you like a coffee?”
“Gawd! I would love!”
“Come with me then,” he said to her.
They walked past the nurse‟s desk and to the furthest end of the hallway, to just at the brow of the staircase between the floors. His office was just at those stairs. Rachel‟s room was at the other end of the wing.
She could not remember having spent a moment in his private office, all books and mahogany, though she had been many times at the doorway, or on the divan in the peaceful outer office. The floor of the outer office was bare, and her shoes were noisy upon the boards, but his office was filled with two great rugs, ornate as any in the Manor, and the one anchored in place by the huge desk was soft as lamb‟s wool.
Kinsey wanted to remove her shoes, and caress that rug – she would have done, but for his next gesture.
Gilbert offered her a steaming cup as he placed her in the most comfortable chair beside his desk. However, he did not put the furniture between them as he did to many other guests; he took the chair beside hers, and instantly put his hand upon hers.
“How are your Master and Mistress bearing up?” he surprised her. She put her cup to her lips in thought. The coffee was blistering hot, and she loved the feel of the searing china against her skin.
“The weariness seems lightened; they smile more easily in her presence. But they cannot lose the worry. I still see tha‟.”
“Would a week at home do them some good?”
“Oh, I don‟ know they would do tha‟!”
“Then, they were no more comfortable and able to bear it at home?”
“Separation would likely harm them. I only had a night of it, when you brought her here Doctor Gilbert. It was more than I could bear, bein‟ away from her a whole night. They wouldn‟ go, I‟m sure of it.”
“Then I won‟t insist upon it. We will leave them be. If they are content, it will be healing of a sort,” he said, almost to himself.
“Rachel is doing well here, isn‟ she?”
“Yes, in spite of the illness, she is a strong child. She has improved her strength a great deal.”
Kinsey was relieved to hear it. “Does tha‟ give you hope?”
“Hope? It pleases me. That is enough,” he replied. “Do you talk with her about these faints?”
Kinsey paused the cup again, just at her lips. That is where Gilbert fixed his gaze.
“We have never talked „bout the faints,” she began, running her mind backward as she had done countless times, reviewing the events to find clues. “She complains o‟ being so weary in bed when she wakes, she hates feelin‟ ill, it makes her cross. It makes her cry t‟ be still in bed.”
“But she has not told you how the faints feel?”
Gilbert seemed to note something mentally, his eyes wandered to something on the surface of his desk, but if he wanted it, he did not move to get it.
“Do something important for me, please, Kinsey?” he asked. “Please begin to talk with her about the time that she is asleep, and I don‟t mean her night-time rests. We need to know what Rachel feels during these periods, and it has never been recorded.”
“She has never said a word „bout the faints; only o‟ wakin‟ into bed, too ill t‟ be up and „bout.”
“Do you think she even knows?”
“I‟m not sure if she does,” Kinsey seemed troubled by the awareness. Gilbert showed something again in his eyes, but she could not tell what she saw there.
“Then we must begin to find out. Would you do that for me?”
She nodded her agreement.
He surprised her again,
“What of you, Dear?”
Kinsey gave him a blank expression. She had not forgotten the warmth of his hand over hers, and his hand had not moved since he touched her. Between the coffee, and his hand, she could not decide which warmth might be causing her to flush. Something surely was; she could feel the warmth in her cheeks.
“Are you quite comfortable?” he asked, to explain himself. “You are the greatest part of Rachel‟s care, to me, and to her as well. I would be missing you if you should fall ill from the constant attention you give our patient.”
Kinsey knew with certainty that she blushed.
“I‟m fine, Sir,” she whispered into her cup.
“Make that the last time you call me Sir, Kinsey, or you shall never get another coffee from me, I promise,”
he smiled at her, and his hand did move. “I have a name, and I will hear you say it. You may call me Liam, whenever you like.”
“Yes, Sir,” she whispered again, but smiled.
“I warned you!” he tested her.
“But this cup‟s no‟ finished yet…” she closed her eyes, to make her blush invisible.
With the next sip washing her tongue, nearly burning her mouth inside, thrilling her as she enjoyed the sensation of fire on her lips, Kinsey became aware of every moment their eyes met, whether at the Manor, or now for a month on his wing of the hospital; Liam Gilbert had looked directly into her eyes, and never dropped his gaze first. He had sought her, with a purpose each time. The weight of his hand was as delicious as the coffee.
The ward was more regular than the Manor household; Kinsey found she could nearly set her watch to the movements of the place. Rachel seemed to thrive in the order, and would sing a name to the doorway, sometimes even before the guest had appeared; she was seldom wrong. Gilbert was terribly amused by it. The Ellingswoods became part of that rhythm: to greet Rachel as she woke; to Gilbert‟s office moments later; to the chapel for a time; back to visit with Rachel. In the regularity of stay, they were finding rest – Thornton, as easily done as putting his head at last to his pillow; Selia, hardly ever now with any of the laudanum, sleeping peacefully each night beside him. And Kinsey - just a breath away in her tiny closet of a room, adjoining Rachel‟s. The hospital was a machine, and it was beginning to heal them, but there was still no answer in its motions, to the question; why did they need to be there?
Another two months passed. None of Gilbert‟s letters had been answered.
Thornton had recovered his desire to attend family business. More easily performed from his apartment than the laborious hours away at the Manor, his associates voiced their great pleasure at enjoying his attention for nearly an hour each day. For several years, they had been lucky to get half that, even once a month. As a result of the attention, the Ellingswood accounts were growing again. Being a friend in addition to being their doctor, Gilbert was aware that Thornton had been saved some considerable worry by the move into Barnstaple. It pleased him to know that, but he had no such pleasure observing Selia. There was no doubt, she was less tired, her mood lighter, but nothing of the worry was gone from her eyes, and much of it had settled into her tone.
When her husband was away at business, Selia would spend the hour at Gilbert‟s elbow.
“Thornton has told me that next you will try electricity.”
Gilbert acknowledged her question with a glance over his latest correspondence. She did not sit to speak to him, as she usually did upon entering his office.
“You did not tell me that yesterday,” she blamed him.
“Selia, I assure you, it only slipped my mind. I told him, because I had thought of it again, and you were with Rachel,” he tried to smile. “I believe it was over a brandy before you went to dinner.”
“Thornton and I are not comfortable with the use of that treatment, she is hardly more likely to respond to it, and it could be dangerous.”
He would normally have emptied his hands, and leaned forward over his paper, giving his guest his full attentions. Normally he would have done so, but her tone suppressed his desire to be courteous.
“But she is not in danger to try it. We can control the current, Stiles is a specialist, and we have seen good response from his treatments with delirious patients.”
The room seemed smaller, with the strain in the atmosphere. She could see that she had made him anxious, and heard the brush of his shoes on the rug beneath his desk. He was shifting in his chair nervously.
“Selia, your husband has not expressed any concern in our discussions,” Gilbert cut her off. “But…I promise, when he returns…we will take the idea up and have it out. We will have Stiles demonstrate the contraption.
Nothing will be tried without your consent.”
His smile was genuine now, but she did not accept it. She walked out of his office without a word. As he looked at the empty space where she had stood, the letter slipped from his hand.
Selia was a loving, deeply concerned parent, nothing more, even with the new color in her attitude towards him. Gilbert recognized it; other parents had displayed it. He was a doctor with few answers, and they had spent a near-eternity directly under his care. He could easily trade places with her, and admitted, she was less cross with him than he might have been himself in her position. However, it hinted that she might be powerful to oppose, even for the care of her daughter. Gilbert had never considered it before, she had shown him nothing less than admiration, but he marked it now. He would do well not to ignore it.
He automatically hoped that Kinsey might not begin to voice the same notes of frustration. He had become very fond of her. Seeking a pleasant distraction now, after completing his letters, Gilbert wondered what she might be doing and glanced at his watch to determine where she and Rachel were likely to be found.
“Thorn, he‟s no more concerned now than he was the day we rushed here,” Selia pressed him.
“You are only more concerned and are critical of him that he does not match your emotion.”
“Why wouldn‟t he? Nothing they have tried has helped her in the least!”
Thornton looked up from his dinner to stare at his wife. She had eaten nothing yet.
“Stiles may be able to generate some response, if he is allowed to use his machine.”
“His machine frightens me.”
“The breather frightened us, when it was first applied. Does it frighten you still?”
She had to admit that it did not.
“Then we should welcome this as another possibility.”
“I‟m tired of seeing her only tested, with no result,” Selia reduced her voice to a whisper.
“Selia, darling, what more could possibly be done? Rachel is getting stronger, in spite of the regularity of the faints.”
“He could care more, Thorn.”
“That is an unkind remark,” he seemed surprised to hear it.
“Holding us here, with no hope, is that kindness?”
Dinner would wait. Selia seemed detached suddenly, and Thornton wondered, had he at last seen homesickness in her expression?
She voiced an answer, unbidden by his question.
“Can‟t we go home?”
“Darling, we must not allow ourselves to despair because of this. Gilbert is trying with all his cunning.”
“I would be comforted to see some despair from him, Thorn.”
“Gilbert? Not likely. He is too analytical for such an emotion.”
“I‟ve not forgotten; Rachel may die. It seems he has forgotten it.”
“You are being unkind, Selia,” he rose from his chair and put himself directly into her distant gaze. She only lowered her eyes.
“Take me to the chapel, after we kiss her goodnight?”
“Yes, darling,” and she heard it from him - as he approached to kiss her cheek; the instant sigh to Heaven, with his very heart in the music. That was more comfort than any agreement that Gilbert was lacking in compassion.
Gilbert found Rachel, holding Kinsey‟s hand at the doorway to the chapel below the ward. She was either early to meet her parents there, or they were late at their dinner.
“Ladies, have you had a pleasant dinner?”
“I had pudding!” Rachel beamed, swinging Kinsey‟s arm in play, and displaying the remains of the pudding on her chin. Gilbert put a finger to his chin, and feigned an attempt at licking the spot. Rachel put out her tongue, but smiled that she found pudding on her chin, where his had none.
“Are your Mummy and Daddy late tonight?”
“Yes, and I shall be cross with them,” Rachel sang, watching down the hallway to the entrance, hoping clearly to see them approach.
“They will only be a moment longer, I‟m sure,” he assured her. “May they put you to bed this evening, after your prayers?”
She gave him a sideways glance.
“Are you here for Miss Kinsey?”
“Do you approve?”
“I do,” but she squealed at them both, her parents were in the door, with smiles, and a bright red box Rachel instantly knew to be candy. She released Kinsey‟s hand mid-swing and bolted for the doorway, into her mother‟s arms.
“Where is my box of candy, Doctor Liam?” Kinsey teased as she reached for his arm.
“I have sweets of another sort to offer you,” he whispered. Her look of shock at the bold words was his reward. “I know you had too little for dinner, the cooks hardly care that we are not patients as well,” he explained. “I would like you to join me for a dessert, only a short cab ride away.”
She instantly answered his questioning eyes, with another blush.
They bid goodnight to the Ellingswoods, promising to return in a reasonable time, but gave Rachel their kisses for bed. She had replaced the stain of pudding with the dribble of chocolate; her favorite.
Thornton blessed them with a smile, but even Kinsey noticed Selia had nothing to say. It was decidedly unlike her.
“Your Mistress is unhappy with me,” Gilbert sighed as they made the door.
Kinsey hummed lightly in response, but waited until they were clear of the door, glancing back as they passed through, before she spoke a word.
“She‟s been cross with me, too,” she offered. “I‟ve been chastised for remainin‟ outside the chapel while Rachel comes in for her prayers.”
“I‟m quite glad that is your habit,” he grinned, raising his hand to hail a cabby.
“Be serious with me, Liam!” she blessed him. “Madam prays very hard for her daughter, but she has no‟
found comfort there either. She wishes we would do more t‟ beseech help from God.”
“If you do go in, be quick, so I don‟t wait long when I come to find you there.”
Kinsey gave him her palm, and shocked expression, but quickly leaned as if to kiss his cheek before stepping up to the cab as it halted beside them. He clutched at her for an instant, but she was not caught, being playful with him and already stepping up.
“Follow me quickly if you want tha‟ kiss,” she whispered from the darkness within the door.
They enjoyed the sweetest dessert Kinsey could remember; she adored it. The café he chose was very close by the hospital, they could easily have walked, but he made the driver circle in some narrow streets, to make the fare worthwhile.
He asked her endless questions about herself, her family and home, and he listened with very well played interest through most of an hour. He had done it many times now, making time to be with her, and always listening, hardly talking. But they were beginning their coffee when he asked her again about Rachel‟s experience during the faints. There had been several episodes since he first asked her to talk with the child about it. Quiet, as Kinsey chatted about herself to his questions, he was utterly silent as she explained that, although Rachel was distressed at the outcomes, she was completely unaware that she had fainted. Ever.
She asked him if they could walk back, instead of the cab.
“If we have no response from Stiles‟ treatment at the next faint, we should think of some distractions,” he told her as they prepared to leave the café.
“Yes, a change in this routine. We have found order in the faints, of a sort, but perhaps too much order to the lives it affects. Your Mistress would certainly agree, too much of the same nothing seems unbearable.”
“A change of scenery?”
“Not home, if that is your hope,” he noticed her frown. “Oh, you could return any time you wished I‟m sure.
Selia would hardly mind staying constantly at Rachel‟s side…but Ellingswood is too distant, even yet.”
“Then some excursions about town? Is she strong enough for them?”
Her hopeful expression increased to pleasure when he agreed. No harm should come from a morning drive to the river, to see the ships in the quays. Or into the near countryside, there were farms but a mile from the hospital, and something other than the ubiquitous sheep might excite Rachel and be entertaining.
The evening had gone cool, Barnstaple straddled the river, which pulsed with the sea, there was salt in the air.
Bold glances and somewhat bolder suggestion; those were the limit of their public familiarity yet – Gilbert and Kinsey, but she took his arm at least for the walk. She longed to feel the touch of his hand again, to hold it as they strolled along slowly. That was too public, and he was above her station, though hardly a hint of that came from him at all. Content at least with his arm, in very proper fashion, she noticed, he was going directly back to the hospital. She wished they hadn‟t.
“May we leave the ward tomorrow? Go about as you suggested?”
“Please, no. Wait until after the next. We must learn if Stiles‟ machine can change her condition when she falls asleep. It has been an awful trial, winning the permission to use it. If we begin some other direction now, it may be lost.”
“Is tha‟ what Madam is upset about – with you, tha‟ is?”
“Indeed. I don‟t understand her reluctance at all. Her husband has been quite agreeable about it.”
“She is afraid, Liam.”
“I‟ve explained it to her several times, and Stiles, this afternoon -”
“Tha‟ isn‟ it at all. She understands the machine; only, it still frightens her. She thinks you are movin‟ in a dangerous direction, without feelin‟.”
Gilbert suddenly stopped, unexpectedly.
“Do you think that of me?”
“Of course I don‟,” she moved to see him more clearly. “But if Rachel were your daughter, wouldn‟ you want to feel comfortable with somethin‟ new, before movin‟ that direction?”
“Ellingswood said that very thing to me.”
“You‟ve bristled, Liam. I‟m no‟ agreein‟ with them,” she said in defense, reaching to take his other hand.
“Yet, I could better care for the girl – if I only displayed the proper emotion? And they profess to understand what I am doing, and still they disapprove of it. Aren‟t we seeking the same thing?”
“It is only your manner, Liam, your detachment –” she would have said more, but he would not allow it. They continued their walk, and she stumbled as he pulled her slightly. The tug carried the heavy weight of an unpleasant argument between them.
When they reached the Hospital doorway, he only turned slightly, and bid her goodnight, then released her.
Kinsey did not watch him pass down the hallway to the stairs, the ones she would have walked with him, up to the ward, to Rachel‟s room. Kinsey looked at her feet, and listened to his footsteps as they crossed the marble floor and were silenced by the carpeting on the stairs. He was quite gone before she moved.
He did not go to Rachel‟s room, his goodnight given earlier outside the chapel. Gilbert settled into his chair, and put his feet under his desk, lighting a pipe as he leaned back and stretched his legs until they touched the front of the desk skirt. Pushing against the wood until his chair inched backward on the rug, he let a curl of smoke cloud his eyes while he stared into the darkness of his office. He could hear the mantle clock. He was stung by what Kinsey had said. It expressed her feelings that the Ellingswoods were correct. He was not helping Rachel. That Kinsey might think it…disappointed him.
The veil of tobacco smoke cleared, and his gaze had fixed upon the leather bound ledger, so familiar that he even knew exactly which pages lay open. He had only been idly reading in them before wandering out at last to find Kinsey. It was just close enough to pull with his fingertip and he clouded the air again with his effort to remain still and touch it with a reach. He remembered suddenly, it was not anything specific in the notes he read earlier, but something had seemed to catch his attention, and the thought of Kinsey had pushed it aside. Might it come to mind if he saw the pages again?
They were hardly different from the pages before and after them. They were actually chosen at random, he had more of the harsh conversation with Selia on his mind when he opened the book. He did not want to be reminded much of that, but something had made him pause, only a few hours before.
He read both pages entirely. His pipe was half smoked before he completed them.
Each page was the recording, by his hand, of a single incident. He was looking at only two, and they were nearly identical – he remembered writing them, very clearly. All of Rachel‟s movements were documented to be the same, her actions before and her condition afterwards. They were completely unsimilar in duration, she was confined to bed for three days on the one page, only a day on the other.
Gilbert continued to cloud the air, and began to thumb the pages. Perhaps they had overlooked the pattern in time between the faints… that was not correct. But it was time that he seemed to remember as being suddenly interesting in the notes – before his thoughts were filled with blue eyes.
He returned the thumbed pages, to the position the book lay when he left it. The first page was marked in the afternoon. That faint had occurred after mid-day. The other page was an earlier event; mid-morning.
Gilbert idly thumbed the pages again, only this time, reading when the faints were noted by the hour of the clock. They were everywhere, at nearly every hour.
But when he saw it, he swallowed his smoke.
The entire history of records, newly improved by Thornton‟s own marks, and Gilbert was thumbing wildly through the pages at random.
His hurried glances told him at every pause, and he stood from his chair with the ledger clutched tightly in his hands.
All the events were moving in time, to occur at a later hour of the day. What had seemed numbingly random
– was not. It was the stray notations of a few early morning episodes, which had clouded his awareness as the smoke from his pipe had clouded his eyes.
Rachel had been settling into a pattern of evening faints the entire year, and now they were fixed there.
but never any stars
“Selia, I have no desire to have Stiles try his machine. Not just yet.”
Her relief was instant, if marred with a suspicious glint, but she smiled as she put her lips to Rachel‟s cheeks.
They had come to see her wake, as they did every morning, and to give her the toast and jam that she adored.
Never allowed at the Manor, (Maggie was too strict.) it had become a fixture of her stay in the hospital; her parents would wake her, and smile as she devoured her jam, in bed.
“Thornton, I‟ve had an insight, purely caused by your wife‟s worry, and her insistence that I practice it, as well as medicine.”
He smiled at their confusion.
“Rachel now faints only in the evening, and it was becoming as predictable the entire year. We could not find it before.”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing yet, until we change her clock to see. And we won‟t need electricity to discover that secret either.”
“I don‟t understand,” Selia said.
“We will begin to keep her up late at night. Have you ever done it before?”
Their expression answered him, of course they hadn‟t. So careful of her condition since the horrid faints began, they were always mindful that she be in bed a regular hour each night. It was never allowed; that she should be up late, and she never seemed so inclined herself. Even after a faint of a few days, she would not be allowed up at all hours just because the faint had released her.
Rachel had never been free of her bed, awake, any night of her life.
“This is extraordinary!” Gilbert whispered with some excitement. “There is so much potential to change everything, by altering her clock. By resetting her sleep rhythm. And we can begin immediately.”
Rachel had noticed the excitement in his tone, and began to kick about the sheets and uncover her toes. It was time for the stethoscope, and she wanted her toes heard first, it made her giggle. He rewarded her by giving her the ears of the instrument, and gave his own heart for her to hear. It quite made her forget the toast.
Gilbert motioned to her father, to invite him from the room to discuss his new ideas. They let the ladies have a very pleasant morning with their jams.
“We will let her be her normal self today, even if it tires her a bit. But we will end the evening with a walk in the sunset, and perhaps down the street tonight to see if she enjoys it.”
“In what way will that help, or teach us anything?” Thornton asked.
Gilbert was standing in his office, at the mantle, fingering the lovely clock as if it were new to him. “I don‟t even imagine that yet. What is the latest hour you have ever known her to be awake?”
“We will have to ask Kinsey. I must say I don‟t know. I‟ve never marked it. But she was always kissed goodnight before we retire to the study.”
“Then we must fetch Kinsey for a few minutes, and get this recorded. We shan‟t guess, and will record everything as before.”
Gilbert called to a nurse who was passing by his outer office, asking her to bring Kinsey there, and continued to share his thoughts with Thornton while they waited.
When Kinsey arrived, she seemed to bear news that Gilbert was anxious to hear. At her latest, Rachel was never out of bed after dusk. Kinsey was confused how any of it might make some difference – keeping the child awake longer than her natural want. He explained as well as he could that a person‟s natural waking, sleeping patterns meant everything to that person‟s health. Even a modest deprivation of sleep could have a profound, lingering affect.
“You have witnessed this affect amongst yourselves,” he told them, seeing they still did not comprehend, “for a year, none of you have rested properly, and it was draining all your strength. But, what is normal for one person is debilitating to another. Thornton, how many hours per night are natural for your needs?”
Thornton answered he took only six hours and felt rested.
“Then you would be soon weary at my schedule. I sleep only four hours each night. Always have in fact.
Could your wife do that?”
“No, she complains if I wake her before she has her full time,” Thornton said, smiling.
“So, I must wonder, what if Rachel is not suited at all the schedule she keeps? How could we know it did not affect her a great deal?”
“She never wants to be awake beyond the evenin‟ hour,” Kinsey stated. “She is always sleepy at the same hour.”
“Well, we can easily find out if she will respond to a change.”
They made their plans, and marked the ledger with the news. It was entirely too early in the morning now for any of them, Kinsey included. This was not frightening at all. And it was so simple as to have been comical.
But it made no change in Selia at all.
Thornton noticed it first, as they knelt in the peace of the chapel an hour later. Selia waited a few moments for their prayerful whispers to fade, and then she renewed her displeasure at the doctor‟s manner.
“Selia! Why have you refused this new direction? You have prevented the use of the machine.”
“Because nothing has changed,” she shot back, barely whispered. “I see no spark of compassion in the man.
He could be playing a new way with a familiar doll, for all I see of his emotion.”
“What an unkindness, and unlike you at all!” he admonished her. Thornton had entirely thought she only sought to stay the frightening use of electricity on their daughter, and it had been prevented – replaced with something blessedly gentle to the child.
“Ask him, Thornton,” she demanded. “Ask him if he cares that she might be harmed. I promise you, he will only give you logic. There will be nothing to assure you what he feels.”
Thornton felt some pain at her accusation. They had known the doctor since Selia began to suspect she carried their child. He had become more than a physician to them, and he was a very commendable gentleman.
The perfect friend. This question from her now, insistent in her tone and her expression, was a question of Gilbert‟s character. It seemed cruel.
“I will do no such thing, Selia. I will not insult him with insensitive accusations.”
“You don‟t believe me?” she complained.
“Darling, I‟ve hardly a reason to,” he answered. “Liam has been the best of friends, and even when our need was not so great as it is now. He has nothing but the deepest concern for Rachel‟s well being. I assure you that.‟
“I grant you, he is a dear friend Thorn. But I caution you, his brilliance is cold, it is plain to my eyes, if not yours, he has little concern for her.”
“Selia, dear God, what more could he show you and satisfy you?”
“You gave her your breath to save her at home. You wept for her, and with each breath, you prayed. You pray for her now, every day.”
“You want him to pray for her? Is that what you require?”
“No, Thornton, I want nothing so simple.”
“I want it to break his heart.”
“Thornton, I want him to understand her loss, should she die here. I want him terrified it might happen.”
He looked deeply into her, wondering she could be so harsh, and she returned the stare. Beneath her expression, in the depths of his wife‟s heart, always visible to him in the windows that were her eyes, he saw a profound sadness. She believed the accusations she made, about Gilbert the man, and it tore at her, it grieved her. This wasn‟t driven by mere displeasure.
Thornton began to understand where the sadness lay. She needed to have faith in Gilbert, and she had none.
She was seeking it, but it was not there. Thornton Ellingswood knew intimately the power of faith; he knew what misery its absence could bring. Selia‟s sadness was rooted in that very misery.
“Kinsey, are we going somewhere different?” Rachel asked, looking at the shoes in Kinsey‟s hands. Every other morning, she brought slippers after the toast.
“Yes kitten, we are doin‟ several thin‟s different today. Would you like tha‟?”
“Yes! Can Mummy and Daddy come with us?”
“They shall. We are goin‟ to take a nice walk with them, an‟ see the boats. And Doctor Gilbert has said tha‟
you have been a very good girl and might like a picnic lunch in a park nearby.”
“Are we ever to go home again Kinsey?”
The question was so sweet as to be very sad.
“We certainly will. Do you miss home?”
“I miss everyone, and Miss Maggie. Why has she not come to see us?”
“The Manor is a very busy place, even when we are no‟ there. Maggie is doin‟ all her duties so we can be here with you.” She put the shoes on the bed beside Rachel, and took a brush from the table, to smooth away the sleepy tangles in her hair. They took a long time at dressing, and played silly, as they sometimes did at home.
Rachel held her favorite dollie, and brushed at its curls while Kinsey continued with hers.
“Are Mummy and Daddy still in the chapel?”
“Yes, but we will wait for them, there is no hurry.”
“Do I get stockings?” she asked. Rachel loved stockings.
“Fancy ladies always wear their stockin‟s t‟ see ships in the harbor.”
“Will we ride on a ship, like the stories?”
“Not likely today. This is Thursday, and there are always pirates „bout on a Thursday. We shan‟t like meetin‟
any of those!”
Rachel twisted underneath the brush and gave a suspicious look at Kinsey.
“Didn‟ you know? Barnstaple is the mos‟ pirate infested city in all of Devon!”
Rachel continued to show her doubt.
“We shall have t‟ wait until Sunday, because all the pirates are afraid t‟ show their wicked faces on Sunday!”
“Where do they go, on Sunday?”
“They go t‟ Ireland on Sunday.”
“We go to chapel on Sunday, Kinsey. We can‟t ride a ship on Sunday.”
“Then, you must be taugh‟ how to fight pirates, because any other day they will come and get you.”
Rachel giggled again.
“Are Daddy‟s ships here on the river?”
“I don‟ know, sweetest. I‟m surprised I don‟ know,” Kinsey stopped the brush and wondered at why she could not answer that question.
“We could ride on Daddy‟s ships, because pirates will leave his ships alone,” Rachel said, matter-of-factly.
“Oh, but his are the richest, with the most treasure,” Kinsey resumed the brushing, “and if you set foot on board, the pirates will know, there is a princess t‟ capture!”
“Darling,” Thornton said with a smile from the doorway, “when Doctor Gilbert allows it, you shall sail on your very own ship. Her name is the Rachel. When she is at port, Barnstaple is her birth.”
Such news was far too grand to remain in bed, she wanted to see, and begged him to lift her to the window so she could see the ships on the river.
Within an hour, Rachel was in her father‟s arms, kissing his cheeks, upon the worn deck of the grand vessel, the captain himself beside her, beaming, hat in hand. For a year, the gentle man nightly prayed for his family, his crew, then his ship and the little girl who shared the sweet name. To have her on his decks had moved him to tears.
The Rachel was new, christened the very month that little Rachel Ellingswood was born. Six voyages to India had weathered her, but did not age her. She was spotless and trim, never any repairs needed but new ropes and fresh canvas. Kinsey was instantly in love with the smell of her –wood, and wool and salt.
They showed Rachel every inch of her ship, and its vast cargo holds, where Ellingswood wool began its journey twice yearly to distant places. Wool would leave, and a wealth of other goods would return, the Rachel never met a wave without a cargo. Her shipment load of wool was the family currency, the blood in their veins.
It was this child‟s birthright, and would be her inheritance.
She had never stood upon the decks.
Seeing her there, moved them all, but Kinsey realized; the child had never been afield to see the flocks either.
The entire Ellingswood fortune – the lands, the flocks, the hands…the Manor, it all existed for their daughter.
And if she died, more than her life would fade away to tragic, poignant memory. The family itself would fade.
Kinsey felt a sudden chill. It stopped her breath, as she gazed at the child.
A hand came gently around hers, soft and very warm. Selia‟s.
“She will be alright Kinsey,” she whispered. “God will send some answer.”
It was through tears that Kinsey now gazed at Rachel, playing with the massive wheel, helping the pilot turn it round and round. So many hearts were connected with the same desire. So many people affected.
“I earnestly pray, that your Liam feels the same hope,” Selia sighed, then released Kinsey‟s hand, to stroll to the wheel, to join the laughter there.
He had not accompanied them to the waterfront, sending Stiles in his stead. Kinsey wanted to see him at that instant, to look into his face and find the emotion that every other person knew for Rachel. She was certain it was there, only beneath the skill and calm that was his outward character. But she remembered well, the night before, instead of displaying any of that concern, he seemed more inclined to reject such feeling. His defensiveness had been surprising.
It would never have seemed a busy day for any other child of four years, but for Rachel the outing was grand, and tiring. Stiles expressed doubt they would be able to keep her awake past her appointed bedtime, but she remained so bright and happy with the activity, they kept to their plans.
A picnic lunch was brought to a park nearby, which had a little lake in the gardens. Rachel was allowed to give breadcrumbs to the ever hungry, waddling ducks. Her laughter drew smiles from every other person in the park.
She was having the time of her life but soon was yawning and begging to be lifted into anyone‟s arms. She seemed to pale, but Stiles came beside and listened to her heart, and her toes, and claimed to be satisfied she was only sleepy. Within a few minutes everyone agreed, she could have a nap; all the better to extend her activity into the evening later, and she might even be more inclined that way herself. Thornton moved the picnic blanket underneath a sprawling larch, and Rachel was pillowed in her mother‟s lap to rest.
She was allowed an hour.
“Rachel, darling…shall we have stories now?” Selia asked her, to wake her.
“Which would you like most?”
“Pirates,” she yawned.
“Then let‟s be off to the ward with Doctor Stiles. Will you walk with Kinsey? I think you have put my legs to sleep!” and she kissed her fingers.
“Mummy, may we ride the ship on Sundays, if we go to chapel first?”
“Why ever on Sundays dearest?”
“The pirates will be in Ireland on Sunday,” she replied, making Kinsey blush, and making the others laugh.
Her afternoon was only as busy as she desired, her rounds on the ward were made as punctually as ever. She enjoyed the quiet of the chapel with her parents, and was quite pleased…Kinsey was beside her at the bench. She kept smiling and glancing up in thanks.
Kinsey listened quietly to every whisper.
Gilbert met them at the doorway, to see Rachel before her dinner. It would be light, and perhaps leave her a bit hungry, because he planned to treat her with sweets in the café, only two streets over from the hospital. It would be there that she would pass her normal bedtime, and he did not want to be very far from her bed if she could not stay awake.
They whispered these plans as they walked back to her room, and she checked every room to see if her friends had received their dinners. Gilbert imagined the dessert in the café would be a grand surprise for her. It would be quite a party, and Thornton left them just outside her room, to alert the café owner that a half dozen people would be arriving within the hour.
Gilbert was well known there, and it pleased the owner that the doctor would be bringing a party of friends.
He promised to have something wonderful for Rachel.
She understood something was different after dinner. Her shoes were still on, and Kinsey made no suggestions they should undress for bed. They were playing with dollies, and sharing more stories of pirates, and Dr. Gilbert was still in the doorway, repeatedly looking to his watch and out the window. The room was beginning to glow with a lovely golden light; there were only a few clouds in her view of the sky. It was to be a perfectly lovely evening.
Gilbert coughed slightly to catch Kinsey between tales of treasure. She followed his attentions to the window, and nodded to his smile. The sun would be setting as they arrived at the café, and if they tarried to peer into any shop windows, the stars might even be gracing the dusk when they finished their walk.
They prepared Rachel with her sweater, and she took Kinsey‟s and her mother‟s hands – eyes wide and wondering as they led her into the hallway.
“You are to be a princess this evening,” Gilbert bowed to her. “We have arranged a party for you, and some sweet cakes and warm chocolate. Would you like to come?”
She brightened, as she had done earlier, coming onto the deck of the Rachel in her father‟s arms. Gilbert lifted her with a matching smile, and carried her down the stairs to the street entrance. There, she took her mother‟s hand again and they began the walk in the warm evening light.
Gilbert offered Kinsey his arm, and she took it, but held him a moment at the doorway. Selia took Rachel across the street, followed by Stiles, unaware the others had paused.
“Please tell me if I offended you last evenin‟?” she pleaded. There had not been another moment the entire day to speak to him about their argument on the street.
“No, you did not,” he assured her. “Nothing offended me, really. But I am more often criticized for lack of medical skill, or for the size of the bills that I deliver – never for showing any lack of emotion.”
“I don‟ share anyone‟s criticism of you, will you believe tha‟?”
“Then I am being criticized?”
Again, he was defensive. Kinsey was heartbroken.
“Liam, please! Madam is seekin‟ much more than medical help for her daughter. Can you no‟ appreciate tha‟?
She is also seekin‟ comfort.”
“Rachel is waiting,” was all he said.
They did not hurry, but were not being left behind. Rachel did want to peer into every shop window they passed, and she paused the longest at the one with new dolls in the display. Not being the least interested in having any new one - she loved the ones she slept with every night - she only smiled to see how beautiful those in the window were. She waved them a kiss as they continued on to find her father at the café.
None of the shops were closing, they would remain open for another hour at least; lamps were being lit and there were golden patches of light upon the sidewalk to carpet their steps. The glowing evening canopy was passing away; the sun was nearly set. They came to the café street and Thornton was on the walk with a broad smile.
Rachel did not see him.
The last glint of sunlight was veiled as the sun slipped below the sea in the west, and as the sky paled to a sweet rose, Rachel pitched forward, completely off her feet, held from a fall into the street by her mother‟s hand.
“Thorn!” Selia cried, bending with the weight of the stricken child.
Gilbert was upon them before Kinsey understood what she saw happening. Stiles was just as quick to move.
Thornton came to his wife as the two men lay Rachel gently upon their coats at the edge of the gutter.
Kinsey only partly heard her name being called.
“Cab! Kinsey, please, find us a cab.”
She turned and ran. Her breath was thunder in her ears. Between her footsteps, she heard Selia moaning.
There were voices ahead, calling loudly for a cab. Others on the street had seen the stricken child, the two men rush to her aid. Soon Kinsey could no longer even hear her own footsteps; horses were rushing up the street from the end of the block. She spun in gray light, in the shadows between two shops, and watched as Stiles threw the cover of the breathing apparatus, to pull it out and mask the child.
This seemed not to be happening. Kinsey closed her eyes, to pray she had not moved from Gilbert‟s side at the hospital doorway; that Rachel was only still peering into the shop windows.
Rachel was so rigid in faint; it took the two men together to put her into the cab. A small crowd had gathered, and one man stepped forward to the horse‟s noses to pull them around on the very spot in the street. They were gently walked back down, the hospital in sight, passing Kinsey where she had frozen. The cab door was still open, swinging freely; Stiles was in the floor, squeezing the bellows, and Gilbert was opposite the child, merely holding her hand. It was too dark within the cab for Kinsey to see clearly his face.
Thornton clutched at Kinsey, to make her aware as they rushed by, hurrying ahead to call for more aid from the nurses when the cab arrived. Kinsey seemed unable to breathe, but followed.
Rachel required the breathing mask for three hours.
Every whisper in the ward was desperate for her recovery. Kinsey sat in the dark, upon the bed in her little closet room, kept from Rachel by a crowd of staff. Only Selia could not be moved aside, and remained at the side of her bed, holding tightly to her tiny hand. Kinsey could not watch, but could hear.
Nearly midnight, Gilbert and Stiles were convinced at last, she might do without the mask the remainder of the night. Again, nothing could stir the child. It was asked if the electricity generator might be used, but Gilbert forbid it, the faint too deep, and the possibility too great she might cease to breathe again. They had kept her alive with more effort than he suspected would be required, and did not want to put her in worse danger.
Selia could not be persuaded to leave her daughter‟s side. Two nurses remained behind, with Selia, when all others had gone out to the hallway. Kinsey could hear the discussions, near the nurse‟s desk.
“I cannot believe it was the hour that caused this.”
It was Gilbert‟s voice, but there was a confusion of others; she could not follow any conversation.
“Must repeat this.”
It might have been Stiles. That seemed to cause argument, which was quickly hushed, and the quiet was filled with footsteps going to the end of the hall.
“Ma‟am, I‟m so frightened,” Kinsey came from around the corner, and the darkness of her room. Selia reached across her daughter and offered her hand.
“But see, dear. She is only sleeping now. She will be alright,” Selia whispered.
Kinsey crept closer; putting her lips to her mistress‟s hand, and studied the child. Rachel seemed as peaceful as any other night, her dollie clutched in comfort, though her mother had placed it into her arms, she had not been aware at all when it was done. But around her mouth, and above her nose, the faint marks where the mask had been applied, a sad mark that cruelly revealed the truth of her frailty. They had merely saved her, so that it may happen again, and again….
Kinsey wept and could not move from Rachel‟s side.
Selia was so weary she nearly laid herself on Kinsey‟s bed to collapse from the strain. But she wanted her husband at her side. She wanted to know the words that caused the argument in the hallway, the result of those exchanges. She had comforted Kinsey until she was depleted of any comfort for herself. Tired as she was, the peace of the chapel, and her husband‟s arms were the solace that she desired. She walked the hallway with her fingertips on the wall beside to steady herself; peering into Gilbert‟s office where she expected to find several people, but the office was empty.
She was suddenly relieved not to find Gilbert there alone.
Selia went down the stairs; the chapel was just below, certain that was the only other place Thornton would have been, and she found him as hoped – but he was not alone.
He was standing alone, but a few benches behind him, was Dr. Stiles; a rosary gently moving in his hands.
Selia walked to him, and paused until he noticed her beside him. Without a word she put her arms around his neck and wept that he had come there for Rachel.
Thornton held his breath at the sound of her voice, but he knew without turning, Stiles had been with him, and it was there that she stood, rejoicing with her tears that some faith was being applied to the efforts to help their daughter.
Thornton‟s prayers of pain became prayers of thankfulness.
Rachel awoke with no memory of even the walk to the café. She said she dreamt of a party, but could not remember it well enough to tell them she had walked with them in her dream.
Every hour she was checked, and Gilbert instructed the staff to let her be herself, as much as she might be inclined; but she was not to leave the ward at all that day, except to join her parents in the chapel. He was oftener in her room than anyone, and at each visit, Kinsey would study his face, look into his eyes when he gave them.
She sought for something that he might feel in his heart, but seemed never able to express, to anyone.
Because of their argument, he was very changed to her. Not changed by manner, or speech, or expression when he looked at her – but he was not the same at all. To her, some veil, unseen, unfelt before, but undeniably present – was now obvious and between them. It prevented any hint of his heart showing through. It made her sad.
Rachel was sleepy at her regular time; they had not exerted her in the least. Kinsey put her to bed after her usual stories, and remained by her side even when the nurse came it to sit in a chair by the door. Gilbert had ordered the constant watch; he admitted that Kinsey, in just the adjoining room, might not offer enough safety.
As during the day, Rachel was checked every hour that she slept.
They left her to her own plans for the next week, refusing to bother her in the least. Some staff seemed confused by the lack of any other trials at keeping her awake, but Gilbert seemed patient. She was unchanged in her desires to visit the other children, and walk the hospital with Kinsey as she had done nearly every other day.
They had been sequestered in that ward of the hospital now for three months.
At nearly a week to the day of the terrible faint at the café, it happened again. Gilbert came rushing up the hallway, as the evening light was leaving the windows, as close to the minute of the last event as could be measured. It came as the sun dipped the last of its fire into the waves on the western horizon - though completely unseen in the window of Rachel‟s room.
She was just getting into bed, and he would let no one touch her.
Stiles was the first to protest, but Gilbert was inexplicably counting, conducting, as it were, some invisible orchestra, mouthing the seconds he marked, one by one. His other hand was up to silence the room, and his manner was so odd that it stilled even Selia. She turned to see her daughter, almost expecting the breathing mask to be over her mouth. It was not.
No one was breathing for her.
Selia stood, shaking her head and raised her arms in Gilbert‟s direction but he was not offended. His hand, that had commanded silence in the room, now pointed gracefully to Rachel, as if to cue her voice in the next note he conducted – he was now whispering…
“- thirty – thirty-one – thirty-two – thirty-three…”
And his hand waved to force their gaze again upon the child.
She moved, and she breathed.
For forty seconds, she had not drawn air. It had panicked everyone around her each time it had happened.
But Gilbert seemed to expect something different. And to Kinsey, he was willing to let Rachel starve for air and die, to learn if he was correct.
He suddenly repulsed her.
He let Stiles and one nurse remain with Rachel; they had observed her without touching her for half an hour.
There was no doubt she had been stricken, but without any intervention she was now peacefully, if very deeply, sleeping. Stiles begged to be allowed some attempts to wake her, and he was instructed to leave her alone. Her parents, and Kinsey, were instructed to meet Gilbert in his office.
“I have been close to accusing you of insensitivity, but this was madness,” Selia leveled at him instantly.
“Madam, the simplest care seems to cause the least harm; our interventions may have been delaying her natural recovery.”
“You are not making sense, Liam,” Thornton aided his wife.
“Yes, Thornton, I am. I do not understand why it makes sense, but if we do nothing, she recovers, in her own time. If we intervene, as we have for more than a year – she suffers. Can you not see it?”
“Nothing helps me understand this.”
“But the whole thing goes gently with her, when we leave her alone!”
“If we leave her alone, Liam, she will die!” Thornton shouted now, his agitation overcoming his reason.
“She will not!” Gilbert thundered back to him, “Because this has happened to her, many more times than you are aware!”
Selia clutched at her husband, his anger only checked by his surprise.
Kinsey stood in a corner of the office, hugging her arms tightly about her breast, her eyes wide and fearful.
“Thornton, we have checked her every night that she has been in our care. There are signs of this faint every night, when to all other appearances she is only sleeping.”
“I cannot believe you,” Selia exclaimed.
“It is marked every hour that we find it. And it is marked nearly every night,” Gilbert smoothed his hair from his brow, and exhaled to calm himself. “It has not affected her in the least, and is only present in ways that even Kinsey would not discern. Only the daytime faints seemed unnatural, and we have erred trying to change them.
We could do nothing else, lacking any understanding of this.”
“Liam! How do we know she might not have died, we might have delayed a moment too long…”
“Your daughter has succumbed to the faint more gently tonight than you have ever witnessed. Why on earth can you not be relieved at that?” Gilbert was incredulous.
“Because you were willing to wait! You only watched. I watched Death approach my daughter, but you were counting. Liam, I am unwilling to continue this.”
“You did nothing to prepare us…” Selia sounded even angrier than her husband, “nothing to help us understand this experiment.”
“That‟s all it was, Liam. An experiment to see if she might actually die.”
“She was in no danger, Selia.” Gilbert pleaded.
“What do you understand of danger?” she spat at him.
Gilbert fell into his chair; he was speechless.
No one had noticed – Kinsey had fled the room in terror.
“Liam, we must take her from you,” Thornton said at last, with great effort. “I will speak to the Governors in the morning.”
“Thornton, listen to me please!” Gilbert begged.
“Liam, I cannot. You were telling us nothing, when we gave you all our attention.”
Gilbert dropped his eyes at that, defeated. He had lost their trust.
Thornton took his wife to their daughter‟s room; they would remain there at her side the entire night.
Gilbert remained in his office until the sun rose.
Two of the governors were in London; due back within the week, but it was a stifling week on the ward. Only Rachel was herself; gently recovered from her complaint as easily as it had stricken her. Stiles made Gilbert‟s visits to record Rachel‟s condition. She had not been troubled again, but the adults around her were troubled; terribly so. Stiles claimed nothing like it had occurred during his tenure – a physician removed from the care of his patient. Gilbert bore it with enough strength, but Stiles had sympathy for his humiliation.
The governors who were present at least heard the complaint, sorrowfully made by the Ellingswoods, but they would not investigate a word of it until the remaining chairs returned.
Selia avoided any contact with the good doctor. Thornton refused to abandon him, but they were strained, when they came together, even in polite conversation.
Kinsey was the most affected. She seemed terrified of him.
Rachel was familiar enough with the business of the ward, and Stiles‟ presence at all times, she seemed not to notice the infrequency of Gilbert‟s rounds.
The mixture of emotions made it nearly unbearable to wait on the governors to convene.
Gilbert knew he would be called, only after the Ellingswoods had laid all the complaints against him, and he knew – they only had one. To have that matter brought to the attention of the governors seemed so needless to him, so intangible a quality; for his entire fifteen years as the Chief Physician on the ward he had done entirely without it.
He brought nothing similar to the Ellingswood‟s faith to his work. It had never been necessary to his methods, never been claimed absent by any other person.
Selia Ellingswood was about to expose his lack, and his entire career would be brought into question.
Why his emotions would carry the weight they now did, was a waste of precious time. He was convinced that some deep mystery to the cause of Rachel‟s condition was being revealed to them at last, and that every step he had taken had been perfectly sound. His last letters to colleagues had stated his findings very clearly. Some were sure to respond now, only it took time. With those opinions in hand, he would have been able to assure the Ellingswoods that every moment had been fruitful. The damned letters only took far too long for that.
But the governors would not require those replies to understand his direction and purpose. He would be able to explain to them.
He reminded himself, this was entirely not about medicine. None of the governors would ask him a thing about that.
And if he approached Selia, to have the matter out privately with her, it would go far worse for him. About this, she would never be rational.
He turned to his ledger of careful notes, actually forgotten for several days; he wrote the first important thing that came to mind…
„Never awake, in any condition, after sunset.”
The words seemed unreal, and unbelievably important.
Stiles found it easy to talk with Selia. She seemed motivated to seek him out. They often made time for quiet discussions in the chapel. Thornton would come for a brief moment, and then leave them alone. Rachel sometimes wandered in, bringing Kinsey along as a walking doll, clearly behaving exactly as the child directed.
Stiles seemed comfortable in that setting, and it was a profound difference for Selia. She began to ask questions that could never be prompted in talks with Gilbert.
“Because, Madam, a child may hold their breath for an entire minute, with nothing harmful being done. Even a naughty child will do it several times each day, just to get their way.”
“But he waited so long, he did nothing.”
“Had I understood, I might have waited beyond his count. But she is not my patient. I am only assisting. Not all matters of her care should be explained to me.”
“Am I unreasonable to miss those explanations?”
Stiles looked into his hands, his rosary in one, shifting thoughtfully, a bead at a time, into the other, “No, Madam. You at least should have been told his thoughts. I don‟t understand that lack.”
There was a light sound behind them, a foot on the rug in the aisle, coming toward them both. Selia turned to see a woman approaching, clearly not a member of staff, looking directly at her.
“Are you that little girl‟s mother? Little Rachel?”
“Yes, I am,” with instant concern.
“My little one loves her so, loves her visits every morning. Rachel is an angel, Ma‟am.”
“Your child is here?”
“Becky; just next to Doctor Gilbert‟s office.”
They shared an instant connection; an awareness. This was not a conversation about the children.
“Is it true, that you and your husband have complained?”
Stiles moved uncomfortably beside her, Selia put her hand gently down, palm out behind herself, to hold him still.
“We‟ve not formally complained, but we are speaking to the Governors.”
“I‟m sorry, but can I ask?” the woman hesitated, “is Rachel getting better?”
Selia felt Stiles move so close as to nearly move her, to get by; get around her and away from the two women.
She turned fully to him to prevent it again, and answered the woman while staring him down.
“We don‟t know. I cannot answer it for you.”
They only stood together, until the silence was very uncomfortable. The woman left as quietly as she had entered, and Stiles had pocketed his rosary in his vest.
“Madam, this could end his career. It has that much weight.”
“How could it?” she seemed unmoved.
“He could be refused his other patients. Even rumor could get out of his control, his good name unable to prevent the damage.”
Selia moved to allow him passed. But she spoke again as he made his way to the doorway.
“Please tell me, have children died in his care?”
Stiles paused and gave her his dismay at the question.
“Madam, you truly do not wish to know how many. This is not a kind profession, we endure such heartbreak here…”
“But how did it affect him? Did it break his heart?”
“Why should that make any difference to know?”
She moved from the bench to approach him. “The answer might prevent me from continuing against him.”
Stiles instinctively put his hand in his vest pocket, to touch his rosary. “He continued with his other patients, Ma‟am. Broken hearted or no, he brought none of it onto the floor, showed none of it to anyone.”
“Then I cannot let him be.”
When the governors called Gilbert to the boardroom, he brought nothing with him, not even the ledger.
Every member of the board was familiar with Rachel‟s condition. Two had even been present during the treatments while she was in a faint. There was agreement that her condition was more peculiar than any they had ever seen. Such obvious health; such proximity to Death.
Gilbert brought only himself, aware that there would be many questions on only one simple matter. He had chosen not to answer the accusation. He had decided to argue the entire point on this: that Rachel was not in danger of dying from the condition at all.
“What do you mean, he is entirely right?” Selia demanded to know. The Ellingswoods were in the boardroom later that same afternoon. All the governors were seated. Thornton held her steady. Six grave men sat in semicircle facing them, the gleaming cherry table separating them by nearly a dozen feet; an imposing expanse of polished wood.
“That the care of your daughter has been sound and that Doctor Gilbert may have discovered important clues to her malady. We believe that it would be folly to remove him, because of this complaint.” Doctor Tobias told her, the sitting Chairman of the hospital Board.
“But, we agree, you should be allowed to rely on Doctor Stiles to keep you informed, and to include you in all matters of her care, to assume a more important role in the situation. That at least is not uncommon.”
There was a murmur of agreement around the table.
Dr. Tobias continued to assure them, “You should have been told important facts, much earlier than you were, and we have required him to make a sincere apology to you for that failure. But Madam, Mr. Ellingswood, Doctor Gilbert has not failed your daughter. I don‟t believe he will fail. I have the utmost faith in him.”
At those words, she seemed to calm. Thornton understood the meaning as well as she.
Only then, would Selia be seated. She slowly took the chair that remained empty for her since she had entered the room.
“Tell me, Dr. Tobias, why do you believe this is not endangering her life?” Thornton asked.
“Because, sir, God had seen fit to leave her with us, and she has grown in strength, even through the worst of this. I find that fact most reassuring.”
“You said Dr. Gilbert may have found some clues, which he has not shared with us. Will you share them?”
“Rachel is experiencing this peculiar „absence‟ every night, in varying degrees. It now seems to be as natural to her as regular sleep. Every daytime faint has worsened when he undertook any intervention. Allowed their course, and she is put in no danger at all. You have seen as much yourself. All of us…” he indicated the entire table, “believe that something vital is being revealed, and that Dr. Gilbert is closer now than ever to finding that secret. He expects that some of his distant colleagues have concurred with his findings, and that we are only delayed in knowing those agreements because of the vast distances any messages are forced to travel.”
“But she ceases to draw breath,” Selia pleaded.
“No, Madam, she does not, in fact. She is entering a state of sleep that, when it commences, pauses her entire body in readiness. She only appears to stop breathing. Tibetan holy men do this from a conscious state. She appears to do the very same thing, without any harm at all, but from a completely unconscious condition. She appears to faint, to allow herself to enter this state. When she is asleep, she enters it naturally, gently. Gilbert believes that she always has done this. Only when they occurred in the daylight hours, would we interrupt this transition, with near disastrous results. Our lack of understanding is what put her in mortal peril, Ma‟am. No one‟s lack of spirituality…did her any harm.”
Selia had been right about him. Tobias put that simple word to the whole matter, and proved that she had been right. Gilbert brought his skill into the ward for very patient. It was for them to bring God into the care.
Gilbert would not do it.
They were trying to explain, Rachel could recover, and God was not actually necessary to that recovery.
Even Thornton felt her pain, at being told that.
Dr. Tobias had been practicing medicine for forty years, and had encountered every human condition that he thought possible. He prayed with some, applied logic to others. And he had learned he could be wrong on occasion. He recognized that he had just made a terrible mistake with Selia.
When Liam Gilbert was troubled, it was his desire to walk the waterfront on the River Taw. He preferred the sound of surf, but it was hardly convenient, Barnstaple Hospital was some five miles from the sea. Given that distance, he would content himself with the gentle lapping of intermittent waves, the creaking and groaning of ropes and riggings, and the ever present seabirds. He would find an uncrowded place upon the boardwalk, and make himself still to listen.
He had gone to the waterfront every day of the week. He went immediately there, after the governors released him. Never making it secret that he would seek the place for comfort, it still surprised him to hear determined footsteps approaching, and looked to see Thornton Ellingswood coming his way.
Gilbert had paused at the bow of the Rachel.
Thornton did not seek any invitation, he came near enough to speak, and did so.
“I‟m sorry that we put you through that,” he offered, very sincerely. “It seemed so unnatural to us… to us both, we could only consider it harmful.”
“You describe it as you might something to be avoided, something contagious,” Gilbert replied. “I do not share your faith, Thornton, your belief in a higher power. I never have, yet we became friends. Only – today, I must either express faith, or lose that friendship? Does that make any sense to you?”
“Not at the cost of our friendship or Rachel‟s care. It is a complaint we should not have made. Do you believe that I regret it.”
“Have I ever required you to prove your faith to me? Why should I be required to explain myself all the more?”
“You shouldn‟t, but can you understand, as Rachel‟s condition was new to you, unknown and strange, you faltered along your way to learn it. We have done the same with you, just now. We may not fully understand, for a while even. Selia, I‟m sure will remain troubled.”
“Will she accept me then, flawed as I am?” Gilbert said with sarcasm.
“She must accept that you are our hope for Rachel.”
“That was nicely avoided, Thornton. Your business has also made you a diplomat.”
“Liam, I came seeking your forgiveness. I can be your friend, without understanding you at all, it seems. Since we have that already, can we agree that it is important enough to preserve?”
“A man might live well besides, with a limp, after a wound.”
“And so now you are a philosopher?”
“No, Thornton, I am a doctor. If you are not dead, you can get on with living.”
“And now you are a cheeky bastard,” Thornton smiled.
Gilbert felt better, and it had not been the gentle sound of the water that refreshed him.
good news from a great distance
As every physician in Barnstaple could now attest, Rachel entered some other realm of sleep within moments of closing her eyes at sunset. Nothing could wake her when the condition was reached. She had begun to take naps in the afternoon, and those were astonishingly normal sleep.
Stiles had been permitted the use of his electricity on so many occasions; he doubted whether it actually worked at all. Rachel achieved such an unconscious state; even dangerous methods had no effect. What Selia had once insulted as an experiment, was now a practiced method. They did experiment on Rachel. She was not influenced, and Selia admitted at last, neither was she harmed in any way, unless they tried to prevent the change from wakefulness to unconsciousness. If they helped her in the slightest, they might be forced to struggle for hours to keep her alive, and she would linger unconscious for perhaps days.
The queerness that set Rachel apart from every other child was now her natural state.
Anyone with a decent medical pedigree had already come to see her, to read the ledgers that now numbered some dozen. There was a wealth of information about her condition from any hour of the day, for days on end.
There were no episodes to be recorded in any daylight hour now.
She had been at home in the ward for almost half a year, her parents had been returning to the Manor every few days and there was excited talk that Rachel was going home, soon.
Every strange event of that half-year seemed, but for its cause, to be understood, to be healthy, for Rachel at least. Yet, there was one harm done that had not healed in the slightest. The doctor had harmed Kinsey.
She could not bear to be alone with him.
„My god, he is stricken by that!” Thornton exclaimed.
“Of course he is; the fire in his loins is smothered, so his heart feels that.”
“Selia, you are awful! I have never known you to withhold forgiveness, to anyone.”
“No one has offended me this deeply,” she replied.
“I believe he loves her,” Thornton reached to caress her cheek.
“Yes, and you love your sheep, but sell them if they begin to jump fences – don‟t you?” she smacked at his hand in play. It had been a very long time that she had been so carefree with him.
“What on earth are you getting at?”
“There is love, and there is devotion, Thornton. I only believe him capable of love. It requires less spirit.”
“What if that is enough for Kinsey?”
“You must be completely blind, dear. She will have none of him. I did not create that distance. He did that.
My opinion, whether he should be allowed to love her, means nothing at all. She is making the choice to prevent him.”
“You influenced her. Perhaps you have been too hard on his character and she believes you.”
“She is more like him than you realize, thickhead.”
Selia actually seemed amused at him. It was a bright change that he was happy to see.
“How many times has she entered the hospital chapel?”
She could tell he couldn‟t answer.
“Then how many times has she joined us there at home? Sunday or otherwise?”
“She comes to chapel, surely she does…”
“She is in the bath, every Sunday, when we are in chapel. Kinsey has greeted Rachel in the foyer, every Sunday, with wet hair, and you are too stupid to see it,” she laughed at him. “She seeks nothing more from God than Gilbert does,” she concluded, watching the truth drive itself into Thornton‟s mind with the pace of a slug.
“But,” he stammered, “You have never brought it up before, yet you will not forgive Liam for his lack of faith. Why is Kinsey granted the freedom to reject God, and Gilbert is not.”
“She feels terror for Rachel. She may well reject any desire for God, but she believes in something spiritual, with as much conviction as you or I. He believes in neither. She can be devoted to him. She might love him that way very much.”
“Gilbert cannot be devoted to her. So she rejects him?”
“Now, dearest, stupid husband, you have become human at last!”
“That is so sad,” he frowned.
“Now,” she laughed and embraced him, “you have become a woman!...you should stop now, such understanding will kill you!”
The hospital was a very busy place at street level. Carriages and wagons were constantly at the entrance. It was never a surprise when someone rushed the door, in a hurry to be inside. It was rare that anyone would rush past the nurse‟s desk and speed to the stairs to the second floor. A young man had done just that. He continued his rush into Gilbert‟s outer office and placed himself solidly in the doorway. His commotion was noticed.
“Letter for you, Sir. The address said to hurry!” with a bow, he placed the crumpled envelope on Gilbert‟s desk and backed out, unconcerned with any gratuity. Gilbert eyed the well traveled packet and quickly recognized it for what it was. The first postmark was Jakarta, half a world away. He tore at the edge and spilled out a rolled paper, also well traveled. At part of its journey, messenger pigeon, perhaps several, had carried it.
This particular reply had come to him by the fastest possible means. He unrolled it and noted the date. It had traveled more than a month to reach him in Britain.
Someone had found another child like Rachel.
He read it twice to understand it, but he was running headlong up the stairs to the boardroom as he did it.
Not even mindful of the hour, at least the secretary should be available; he needed to alert the governors right away.
“Thorn, there is a rider on the lane, he has a messenger‟s hat.”
He looked from the study window to his wife on the terrace below – she had been planting in the flowerbeds when she spied the messenger and called up to Thornton.
The man had hardly reined his strong horse at the steps when Thornton came out to greet him, a hand into his vest for some coins.
“Master Ellingswood? For you, Sir. Doctor Gilbert sends important news,” handing the card to Thornton.
“Ill news?” Selia blanched.
“He said no, Ma‟am. Told me to tell you this is good news.”
“He‟s received word, they have found another Rachel!” Thornton exclaimed.
Selia seemed to hear the news only very slowly; she did not immediately react, but seemed confused, and then surprised at last.
“He‟s called us back; the Governors will see us in the morning.”
“Why the Board?”
“He doesn‟t say.”
Jakarta was not the final destination. Gilbert did not know yet what that destination was. He only understood that he would travel several weeks from there to find the child. A more detailed letter was promised, several pages of information, which would certainly take several weeks more to find him.
The governors must consent to let him go, he alone could determine quickly enough if the condition were truly the same, or even some variation on the same malady. Stiles seemed intensely jealous of the news; he had even offered to pay Gilbert for the opportunity to make the journey. His offer was declined with much amusement.
After alerting the Board and posting the messenger to Ellingswood, Gilbert hurried to the library in a cab; he needed maps, rolls and rolls of maps. Jakarta was not entirely foreign to him; he had spent a year in Indonesia as a youth, with a wandering Uncle, doing missionary work. At the time he had considered it the most hellish experience of his life, though the young women were astonishing. He had returned home from that adventure to learn that his younger brother was profoundly deaf. That news had changed his life‟s direction entirely.
The sound of the mere word, Jakarta, sent many emotions coursing through his heart. He couldn‟t get to the library quickly enough; it was already three in the afternoon.
“Kinsey, sing me my song please?” Rachel cooed and begged.
“Should I sing it as a frog would sing?”
“NOOOooo!” Rachel squirmed under tickling fingers.
“As a warthog?” Kinsey wrinkled her nose and oinked with sincere passion.
“NOOOooo!” Rachel sang, but oinked with her; she was resisting her slippers; Kinsey had been trying to put them on for the walks in the ward, but since they were being resisted – the toes were being attacked.
“Sing it as your Mummy would sing,” she laughed, though she wanted to be serious. “Please sing it properly for me?”
Kinsey got the slippers on, but Rachel crawled onto her lap, to put her ear against Kinsey‟s breast; her favorite place to hear the special song. Hardly ever more than a whisper to anyone else, it was lovely so close and warm to her breath as she sang, it seemed to fill her.
Rachel had always believed it was her very own, and Kinsey didn‟t mind, she had also known it to be hers, when her mother sang it. It was a treasure now to them both, likely ages old.
Tiny little baby, lyin’ in your bed;
“Isn’ she a sweet one?” the Angels must have said.
“We shall surely miss her, when she leaves our fold;
But her mother needs her, to cherish and to hold.”
Tiny little fingers, delicate and sweet;
wee pink toes she has, too, upon such tiny feet.
So they laid her gently, in a cloudy spread;
and takin’ up the corners, toward the Earth they sped.
Laid her at our doorstep, to be our very own;
to cherish and to treasure, until she should be grown.
Tiny little Rachel, lyin’ in your bed;
you surely are a darlin’, as the Angels said.
“Sing it again, please?”
“Yes, Miss Kinsey. Please, sing that again?”
Dr. Gilbert was standing in the doorway, so quietly still, even with his armload of papers and books, he had not been noticed.
“That was lovely,” he admitted shyly. “I would like to hear you sing again.”
She wouldn‟t have, not for him at all. But Rachel had wanted it. Unpleasant as it was, him standing there, eavesdropping on something so private as to be almost secret – Kinsey closed her eyes to make him not there.
Rachel hummed the lovely tune with her, and sang only the word „Angels‟ each time.
They could take their walks now, and return just in time for dinner.
“Am I really going home in a few days?” Rachel asked him as they slipped past into the hall.
“Yes, my Angel. Miss Kinsey shall take you home.”
“Will you come and see me there then?”
“Not for a great while, you might even be quite grown before I return.”
That utterance halted the walk instantly.
Rachel was cloudy as she gazed up at him. In a very unusual gesture, she let go Kinsey‟s hand, and took hold of Gilbert‟s. He knelt down beside her, to hear what she wanted to say.
“Where are you going then?”
“I have a letter…that a little girl, very nearly your age, might need to see me as you have. You have been made very much better now, but she might need me there for a while.”
Kinsey had heard nothing of the excitement. Her expression would have surprised Gilbert, had his attention not been held by two very green, wide eyes at his nose.
“Does she go wobbly as I did?”
“So wobbly, she seems to dance,” he smiled.
“Then, you must hurry. She must be frightened. Where is she?”
“Across the globe darling. She is half the world away. When you see the sun go down, she sees it rise for her morning.”
It was all that Kinsey could do, stand by and listen to them. He might be gone a year. And only the nurses really noticed her emotion. It caused them to smile. She had recovered enough that Gilbert saw nothing when he stood again, to thank her for the song.
It took all her strength to hide it. She had no handkerchief, and she cursed him, silently, for making her nose run.
Rachel stopped in each room, to announce that she was going home at last. It was very serious news, though entirely happy, because, she also said, Dr. Gilbert was going away; to help another little girl with the wobbles.
Kinsey felt her heart tear a little more, each time it was announced.
She could barely see to walk, when they returned to find Rachel‟s dinner, waiting on her tray. There was a note.
Will you dine with me?
Rachel was in bed, with Stiles sitting beside her when she drifted away as the sun set. He marked the time on his watch, waited until he saw her breathe deeply again, then he lifted her eyelids to see her pupils. She was fully immersed. He could have ridden an elephant into the room and she would have remained tranquil.
From the corner of his eye, he could see Kinsey, waiting at the top of the stair. Gilbert‟s footsteps were in the hallway.
They walked to the café. She did not take his arm. It had been weeks that they had spoken a word. She allowed him to be busy, and it was more comfortable that he did not press his affection, because it was only easy to be upset with him for the first few weeks. She felt she might have truly driven him away, and the distance between them felt so wrong as more time passed. But he had never come near again. Not since the governors‟
meeting about the complaint.
They only chatted a very little bit, about Rachel‟s return home, and the café was suddenly before them.
Rachel had been with them, the last time Kinsey stood on that curb. Her mind was filled with that terror again, and it played horribly for her, Gilbert must have noticed her pause.
She could clearly see Stiles fumble the latch on the breather pouch. Thornton was running across, as Rachel was placed upon her back on two coats. Selia was turning, almost slowly. Kinsey could hear her name. It was not Selia speaking, it was Gilbert.
“Cab! Kinsey, please, find us a cab.”
It was an instant only.
She could see him clearly.
Fear in his eyes.
Kinsey withered against him at the curb, where he had put his coat to protect Rachel. His arms came around her, and she sobbed; something was said between shudders, but he could not understand her.
They could not move until her grief was emptied.
He walked her sweetly across to the café. They were greeted well, seated by the window, on the walk, to enjoy the evening air. The owner seemed pleased that Kinsey had returned with his friend the doctor. In moments he rushed in and came back with their drinks.
“You think foolish of me…”
“I was stubborn, and stupid,” Kinsey insisted.
“Impossible,” Gilbert replied, smiling. He ordered something they could share for dinner.
They were brought their food, and she felt better, only for having cried shamelessly upon his shoulder for the whole neighborhood to observe. He thought he knew what had caused it, but he only partly knew. Not all of the tears were for the memory of that evening with Rachel.
She had wept for the waste of time - weeks they might have mended any other hurt, and now he was beckoned to rush across the globe.
“It breaks my heart tha‟ you are goin‟,” was all she could say. Anything more, might have brought more tears.
“We have waited so long to hear any news such as this. But the distance is daunting. I‟ve not flung myself so far from home before.”
“When will you leave?”
“Within the week perhaps. I must seek advice from Ellingswood; it is his business to put goods into such distance places. He would know how I should do this.”
“Why must you be the one to go?”
He smiled again at her, beginning to realize where else the tears had been felt.
“You know why I must go, Kinsey.”
“Will it truly take a year?”
She had touched nothing of her food.
Gilbert paused his ale at his lips and searched for the more urgent question in her eyes. Did he really want to be apart from her so long?
“How do you know this voyage is necessary?”
He put down his pint and took her hands. She seemed to be comforted the moment he touched her.
“A colleague, Doctor Eldrige has sent me two weeks of notes about a young girl in the South Pacific, who ceases to be conscious as regularly as Rachel. He found her over a year ago, I‟m not sure really, he‟s vague about that. But he is in Jakarta. He cannot take me to her because of his health. I‟m promised a guide in Australia.”
“What will you learn when you find her?”
“I simply don‟t know,” he replied. “Hopefully, something we have not seen here.”
He put his hand to her cheek, to caress the traces of her tears on them.
“Please eat something, dear. We will have a few days to amend what was hurt, and to prepare for the parting.”
“Will you be able to write to me? Will letters ever come to me, Liam – from so far away?”
To have only letters from him, for so long, made the time wasted in confusion seem worse.
“They will. I will write every few days. I will leave addresses where you can send a post, and it will surely find me from there. But mine will come more easily to you, than yours to me.”
Kinsey could smile for him then, no hurt yet healed as he promised, but he had comforted her, and had not blamed her for their separation. The weeks had been lonely for her, more so because she caused them to happen.
While she shared their meal, he continued to explain what he knew, and what he hoped to find, of the child so similar to Rachel, but so far away from them.
It was in the quiet walk, after dinner, she toyed with pleading to go – but she could not abandon Rachel. She had never crossed the channel, even to France; to see somewhere as exotic as Jakarta, or India, Egypt…it pulled at her heart, as he pulled it. It would have been to follow him - the begging to go; no distance seemed far if she could be beside him.
And she realized what else had happened between them.
He had not offered his arm without taking her hand in his other. Their intimate contact was not hidden to the street as it had been before. There was a great deal of healing in that new touch.
They spent several minutes with Rachel, watching her sleep, hearing the observations from Stiles.
Stiles left them alone after a few minutes, and the lamps were being dimmed in the hallways. Gilbert put out the lamp in the room. Kinsey felt his arms come around her and they embraced in the darkness; a longer embrace than they had ever shared. He pulled his fingers gently through her hair, nearly bringing it down from the pins that held it, and they gave each other a sweet goodnight.
Eldrige sent valuable information indeed, almost three weeks of study. Gilbert had no doubt what he would find when he saw the other child, but – so far away!
He had other patients to attend, before he could begin preparing to go; he was very busy for a time, but it was still a difficult wait for him. He was burning to go.
Kinsey was trained in the use of the breathing machine, though it was well understood she could not use it to interfere with Rachel‟s symptoms.
Rachel and Kinsey were allowed to return home, to joy and celebrations. She was much stronger, and he learned that she ran the steps to greet a tearful Maggie and the household. Kinsey was instructed to bring her back to the hospital once each week, to stay the night. It was not really necessary that she stay, she could have traveled to and back very well in a day, but he desired that one evening with Kinsey.
She wanted the weeks to pass slowly; he desired them to hurry. It was their only clash – all other disagreements were melted away.
Thornton and Selia still discussed the closeness between their employee and their doctor, but they openly agreed it was love. They were not fooled by the request to have Rachel stay the night in Barnstaple. Kinsey carried more than their trust when she would go, she also enjoyed their blessing.
Of Selia‟s complaint against Gilbert, once Kinsey seemed to secure his heart, Selia agreed there was more of spirit in him than he admitted. She ceased to make any other misgiving known.
One change had come to the household, decided the very day Rachel was welcomed home – her bedroom was altered to include Kinsey‟s furnishings. It made the lovely nursery room more cramped, but Rachel was not confined there as she had been. Now there were walks in her mother‟s gardens, and almost daily trips into the village below.
Rachel had stood with Kinsey for the first time at the edge of the cliffs above the turbulent shore. They had picked tiny flowers along the fences where they ewes could not reach and pull them. They had played in the attics, and dug in the gardens.
Kinsey was not only a nanny now. She was Rachel‟s teacher.
Gilbert had been prophetic, Rachel no longer suffered with the faints, and they were never present in the daylight.
Kinsey would watch her ease into the rigid, unbreathing state upon closing her eyes at night, and Kinsey would count, never more than a minute, before the child relaxed to breathe again.
However deeply Kinsey desired them to come slowly, the letters from Jakarta arrived. Gilbert sent a message the day they came to him.
She knew; she might only see him twice more, before he would go.
Thornton drove to Barnstaple the next morning. His knowledge was needed to help the doctor prepare.
The papers in Gilbert‟s hand slapped down upon his desk and he began unrolling them, laying things about to hold them flat. He lit his pipe as Thornton rearranged a few of the sheets.
“Your colleague is in Jakarta?” Thornton asked, fingering the surface of an Asian map.
“Yes, he will arrange someone to meet me in Darwin, to take me to the child. But, I must set out immediately,” Gilbert told him, pulling another chart to the top of the broad, scattered stack.
“And he is certain that the condition is the same as Rachel‟s?”
“His post gave me every indication they are both afflicted. He was very thorough. They are unlike anyone on earth that we know.”
“Darwin? First, we must decide if you could travel more quickly around the Cape, or by the overland route our Mr. Waghorn has made so famous,” Thornton offered, searching in the pile for something of Africa and India.
“How is the Cape of Good Hope at this time of year?” Gilbert asked, the pipe unsmoked but clenched between his teeth. It appeared to have lost its fire.
“Not the best, but it will be worse if you hesitate a month longer. But we can port in Darwin, in ninety days, about. The Rachel does not sail it; she ports in Mumbai. I don‟t have another frigate ready for a direct run to Darwin. I cannot get you one of my Blackwall‟s for a month, and the Cape will plague you for the delay.”
“What can Waghorn‟s route save me?”
“The overland from Alexandria to India is about thirty days, and quite pleasant now, but it will be a week to Alexandria from Marseille, then you will likely be two weeks or more to Darwin from anywhere in India,”
Thornton calculated. “The beauty of Waghorn‟s route is that you can leave in a few days. But once in India, you are without my help, I can only offer letters to help you make contacts, but cannot arrange your vessels.”
“So if I go to Cairo, I might save perhaps a month?”
“Very easily,” Thornton assured him. “Do you know where you are bound from Darwin?”
“Cook‟s Bay of Plenty – New Zealand,” Gilbert squinted his eyes.
“My God!” Thornton blanched. “From Darwin, that is three hard weeks!”
“I know. My journey may take four months, and I don‟t know how long I will remain there, if I even find this little girl.”
“There is no more difficult place to sail to that I know, Liam. God is playing a terrible game with us, putting these afflicted lives so far apart.”
“It is a harsh game, I‟ll admit, and unless we agree to join, we may never know what separates Rachel from us every night.”
They studied the maps they had scattered. Gilbert relit his pipe.
“Can nothing carry me to the Southern Pacific, around the Americas?”
“No, only east, or the winds batter you to pieces, and the Pacific gives you no place to rest. Clearing Patagonia on the return is worse, any time of year.”
Gilbert pulled at his pipe and began scratching some notes while Thornton sought the cabinet for a drink. He poured two glasses of rye and returned to study the tapestry of jumbled maps upon the desk.
“I could put you on the Rachel in two days, and have you cargoed to San Sebastian. You could easily make Marseille from there, a few days at least trimmed. The trains from Paris are abominable. You would hate it.
Gilbert laughed. He doubted that he would hate traveling the length of France again, but knew Thornton was correct, they could sail him to the coast, west of Marseille, and he would only be two days through the mountains; a much speedier route. He would be on his way to Alexandria in hardly a week. No ship could board him any sooner, or take him across the world any more quickly. If this were merely an adventure he would have welcomed a hardship voyage.
This was a mission. It required speed that might be lost a dozen ways; storms on the Mediterranean, searing sand in the Sinai, pirates in the Gulf of Aden – or worse, no ship in Mumbai ready to give him passage to Darwin. His travels along the Australian coast would be treacherous, the gale season against him the whole way.
New Zealand seemed to be the least likely place that he could travel to quickly, but there it was, and a child slept there as Rachel did, completely removed from this world.
Formal consent was given by the governors, soon as the plans were laid. Gilbert made calls to his several regular patients, and introduced the gentlemen who would see to their care in his behalf. The children who were on the ward were easily agreeable; they knew Rachel and her strange need.
He was arranged within a few days, the Rachel was preparing to sail him south. Nothing had been mentioned of funds, he could not believe he lapsed in that preparation and it required him to approach the governors again.
At that late hour, he would be reprimanded.
They dismissed him without a thought.
“Your funds have been provided by the Ellingswood Company. You only need to carry his letter to draw funds from any bank in the East.”
It floored him.
Without a thought, he had ignored his greatest need, and it had been seen to, silently, without his knowledge or worry. And the governors would not be stressed for a single coin.
It was an extraordinary arrangement. He imagined that Livingstone himself would have been envious of the ease applied to making Gilbert‟s „Sleeping Angels‟ expedition ready.
He was invited to come to Ellingswood the last evening before the voyage, to see Rachel, and it was hoped, be bold enough to spend that night with Kinsey. Whatever had occurred between them could only be guessed, but Kinsey rode in his carriage again to Barnstaple, clutching at him with some desperation. The Ellingswoods followed behind, and would bring Kinsey home again with them.
Little Rachel was mysteriously accepting that he would be absent so long. Untroubled in the least, she seemed content to kiss him one last time on his cheek and be handed back into her father‟s arms. The gentle Captain Diggins stood again with his hat in his hand, knowing his ship was on an important errand; he promised his Master that the doctor would be treated as the most precious cargo, and summarily thrown ashore near the appointed place – three days late.
It made them all, but Kinsey, laugh.
His farewell to her, lingered far beyond the span of any others, and they held glances, such precious bonds now, until all the ropes were untied, and the great frigate was shoved aside by twenty stout men with poles.
Kinsey called his name one last time, and he was soon too distant to hear again, only the wave of his arm from the clutter of the deck marked him as there.
She let him go, and refused to cry, because Rachel had not either.
She found his handkerchief stuffed in her sleeve, she had held him so closely the gesture was not noticed. It was the only thing, of his, that she had to hold.
On the Rachel, there was cargo, and there was crew. Gilbert understood within an hour, he was now one of the forty crew; she carried no passengers – until they cleared the river‟s outflow to meet the sea, and he became cargo. Seasickness put him to bed, and he would not rise again that day. When he did rise at dawn, they instantly put him to work, to take his mind away from his heaving belly. He was made to eat, and retched again, but he knew he was now also a patient and took the captains orders, eating a bit, constantly, and losing it again…until at last he found his legs.
“We‟ve left half loaded, sir, so she rolls a bit,” Captain Diggins explained.
Half the crew had remained in port, happy for the holiday. It would have been three more weeks that she was ready to go to India again. Running to Spain, „to scare them‟ as the captain called it, meant there was really no work to be done on Rachel’s decks, but Gilbert was in awe of the labors that put her to sea and drove her. There seemed to always be someone in the riggings, higher than he would ever have cared to climb.
He felt so awful, he couldn‟t find the time to be amused, but the captain was. Diggins claimed it had been years that he last nursed any seasick crew. Gilbert sincerely hoped the next four months would not feel as that first day had.
The next morning, they saw the mountains of France and Spain; they were coming into San Sebastian. Gilbert felt such excitement that he rushed to find an empty place to put down some paper and write a short letter to Kinsey.
When she read it, she did cry;
I was a fool to not have begged you to come.
“Who are the people in your dreams, Kinsey?”
“They…well, they are loved ones an‟ friends,” she answered the child. Nothing of dreams was ever seriously discussed between them before.
“What do you mean, kitten?”
“Do you always know them? I don‟t know them in mine, but they are very nice.”
Kinsey learned, after several days of play and questions, Rachel had begun to dream. Hardly ever recalling much of her own dreams, Kinsey was not inclined to ever share them with anyone. To her, a happy waking moment might have been caused by a good dream, though she really didn‟t know, and she never woke with any sad feelings a bad dream might have caused.
However, she knew that of those few that remained in her mind after waking – they were not filled with strangers at all.
Rachel did not dream of people she knew and loved. They were vivid strangers. Kinsey wondered that it didn‟t seem to frighten the child; she was convinced she would likely be terrified herself.
“I can‟t understand what they say to me.”
“Are the nice people in your dreams, like us?”
“Everyone is like us, aren‟t they?”
“But, they might have different clothes, or different color skin…” Kinsey foundered. Was Rachel dreaming of people at all? What a horror! – to dream of strangers who were not people.
“No, they aren‟t like us at all. But I am like them.”
It was the most chilling thing Kinsey had ever heard.
She took the news first to Maggie, who gave her a stern face and said,
“You should tell this to Madam,” but wouldn‟t explain why. Kinsey knew that Maggie was superstitious, and imagined that the child‟s strange dreams unsettled her as well.
“When did she tell you this?” Selia asked.
“Just a few days ago, Ma‟am. She‟s never said the like before. I can imagine that she‟s havin‟ nightmares, but doesn‟ understand t‟ be afraid.”
“Let‟s find out then, but gently please.”
No, the dreams were peaceful and nice.
What Rachel was dreaming, were not Angels. She would love to have seen angels, and said so. Kinsey was never afraid of monsters or strange animals as a child, and she did not believe in demons, yet did not want to bring such images and thoughts to Rachel‟s mind. To know if those things met Rachel when she truly slept, Kinsey began to show her pictures of things, but in play. She did not want the child to understand that the dreams were being questioned so seriously.
There were no animals or monsters, or fairies or trolls; nothing of giants and dragons, or lions and bears or wolves. Kinsey couldn‟t find any children‟s book in the entire library which had an illustration that might cause the child to point and say, “There they are! My dream people!”
Kinsey discussed her failure to learn more, with Selia, several times. Maggie did not want to participate.
“Have her draw these people for you,” Selia suggested at last.
So, after a few days of drawing flowers and butterflies, and some Angels, Kinsey gave her a new sheet of paper and put the whole question into the air.
“Will you draw me a dream person?”
“But, kitten, why not?”
“They won‟t want me to. Pictures of them are bad.”
“Do these dream people come here, to your room?” Selia asked her that afternoon. Kinsey had gone just minutes after hearing it, to tell her mistress the dreams could not be pleasant; she was frightened for the child.
“No, Mummy, I go to them.”
“Where, darling? Where do you go?”
“Away – a very long way away.”
“Are you ever scared to go?”
“No. But I miss you when I am gone. I miss you and Kinsey, and Daddy, and Doctor Gilbert.”
Selia agreed with Kinsey, in whispers at the doorway, the dreams were menacing, they could not be natural.
“I want to take her to Barnstaple, to the Parish Church,” Selia said softly. “Tomorrow. I want to go talk with the priest.”
Thornton agreed; now hearing the entire tale, two weeks nearly of questions, to finally learn there was something dark within the dreams. He drove them into the city, leaving them at the parish gardens, promising to come take them to lunch near the docks. The Rachel was preparing to sail to India; her holds were nearly loaded with wool.
“I don‟t understand that she is not frightened,” he said before leaving them, “but don‟t let this frighten her instead. Tell the priest to be gentle with her.” And he lifted Rachel from the carriage and gave her a splendid kiss and smile. “I will see you, when you are starving!” he said to her.
“Can we have pudding?”
“No, today we will walk to the sweet shop for chocolate!”
Rachel was excited, and put her arms about his legs, to squeal.
Thornton watched them enter the church before driving away, and he spoke to God with his hymn as he gave the horses their reins. He prayed quietly the entire way down to the docks.
“Where is the family, Sir?” a voice called up to him as he passed.
Dr. Stiles was at the curb, just on the corner of Castle Street, his arm raised to be noticed. Thornton waved and pulled the horses.
“I‟ve left them in St. Mary Magdalene‟s,” he replied, “I‟m sorry to have nearly driven past. Any word from Gilbert when he made Marseille?”
“Yes, it came yesterday. He was two days early to find a ship, his letter made him seem in very good spirits.
He should be in Alexandria by now, surely. You passed the messenger, I wager. I‟ve sent his letters on to the Manor.”
“Good, I‟m glad he has started well. Our captain said he was lumpy for the ride to Spain.”
“I‟ve never heard him say he was seasick before.”
“I never talk of it either,” Thornton laughed, “I can‟t be on board half a mile but I nearly die. Even the gentle river tries to kill me.”
Stiles seemed terribly bemused at that, hearing of seasickness from the owner of an entire cargo fleet.
“Don‟t be terribly amused Stiles,” Thornton warned. “It might be you on your next voyage.”
“I don‟t suffer that way,” Stiles boasted. “I‟ve hardly been on shore as much as I‟ve been sailing. I love it dearly.”
“Is that why you competed so strenuously to take Gilbert‟s place?”
“I‟ve never seen the Horn. Who wouldn‟t want that?” Stiles laughed.
Thornton rolled his eyes at the playful insult.
“Listen, Stiles, are you needed anywhere? Can you ride with me to the docks? We were coming to see you after lunch.”
The priest greeted Rachel with joy, and invited them to sit near the altar while he finished his prayers. She knelt and stood as he did, her hands at her chin in prayer as her mother would do. But she did not pray, or did it silently; instead she studied the sanctuary, and the beauty within it. She had already been there enough to love the paintings in the altar panels behind the priest.
When he met them again, Selia pulled him aside; to whisper the reason they three had come to see him.
Kinsey watched his expression, his eyes fully engaged with Selia, then lowered to the book in his hands, then at last coming to see Rachel beside her on the bench.
His eyes were filled with mystery, and compassion.
They spent two hours with him, in many corners of the church, a short while in his office. He owned an old picture Bible, very frail now, with pages of stunning illustrations, though some of them were quite frightening.
They looked into that book together, and he thumbed the thin pages for her, never raising a breath of excitement from her, or even any notice of the drawings that Kinsey thought harsh. If there were demons in her dreams, the Bible did not show them, and it seemed to Kinsey to have entirely too many of them.
When Thornton came to find them, they were no better educated, but the visit had been so much fun for Rachel, and the priest loved her dearly before she left, making her promise to come again for a Sunday mass.
Kinsey wondered what more they could learn.
They played at a fine lunch, but not at the park; it was too chill to enjoy it. It was grand to walk to the sweet shop though, and Rachel hurried Kinsey to find it, leaving Thornton to speak to his wife.
“When Gilbert returns, he is likely to ask for her hand,” he began.
“I should hope he has the sense to do it.”
“Won‟t that be inconvenient for us?”
“It would have been, were she not so strong as she is now,” Selia answered him, taking his arm from him.
“She needs schooling now, not a nanny. And we won‟t lose Kinsey, even when she comes to live with him in town.”
“Would you make her come to the Manor every day?”
“Thorn, you are the most senseless man sometimes! Of course not! Two days of lessons each week will be enough, for a few years even. We can make any arrangement to suite us in that time. Kinsey is not indispensable; regardless what love we feel for her. But no plans will ever sever their bonds. Kinsey can marry Gilbert and lose nothing at all, and neither will we.”
“There should be a letter for her, Stiles sent one to us today. He should be in Alexandria by now.”
“Could you have waited for me, Thornton, for an entire year?”
“I couldn‟t in France; that is why I begged you to marry me. But he will be surrounded by nearly naked women in a month, he will have distractions.”
She stepped to the side and swatted his shoulder with nearly all her might. It bruised, and amused him. But she gave him no smile; that it was clearly in her eyes, hardly eased the pain in his arm.
“You would make a good deck hand. You could pull a good rope.”
“I will make a fine widow too, if you keep many vulgar thoughts like that. Why would you mention such things?”
“If Kinsey hasn‟t feared it yet, she is senseless. Stories from the East are filled with lurid tales of passionate people.”
“Thorn, you are the only nonsensical person I know,” she chastised him.
“You are the one who said he lacked devotion, dearest,” he continued to rub his shoulder.
“Kinsey wouldn‟t have accepted him, would she?” she asked, thoughtfully confused.
“Selia, we don‟t know what she has accepted, nor what might have been given, do we?”
She didn‟t like that.
“Darling, he will be gone a year, we might suspect what that will do to her, because we know and love her.
But what will that do to him?”
“God, I hate it when you actually become sensible, Thornton!”
“When I try to be sensible, I fail, and yet succeed without trying! How can that be?”
“Women have wondered that answer for years,” she shook her head.
Stiles met them in Gilbert‟s office. Whether he had been invited or not, he settled in it as his very own, within hours of his friend‟s sailing. But the ornate desk was still piled with maps and books, only better organized at one spacious end. Kinsey took Rachel, after their hellos and hugs; to see if any children were still there whom she would visit every day before. Stiles took their absence to continue his conversation with Thornton about the dreams. Selia was eager to hear his opinion.
Enough was understood about sleep, to know that dreams seemed to come when the sleeper‟s eyes were busy under their lids. Patients, who could not find that active period, could also not dream. He had even read of one person who seemed so active as to be nearly awake, and in the throes of wonderful, bizarre dreams the entire time.
Rachel seemed to sleep as a doll might sleep. She had never been known to reach any state of activity that caused her to move in the slightest. Stiles told them, he would have thought it impossible that she could dream.
Hearing the tale from her father had been a bit of a shock. The descriptions he was told - of the strangers with strange appearances – did nothing to help him understand what was might be happening in the child‟s mind when she entered the dreams.
He stunned them by saying it sounded more fitting to the descriptions of trances or very deep meditation that was practiced in faraway lands, by mendicants and fakirs, practitioners of strange arts and religious magic. In fact;
“I have one of Gilbert‟s books here, that shows just such a group, Polynesians, practicing some perverted ritual,” he poked about on one of the near bookshelves, pulling a few over to see something of their front covers. “Here it is-” he claimed, and held it backward so one of them might take it. Selia did not seem to want it.
Thornton grasped the offered book, and Stiles began a search for another. What other strange thing he might find on that shelf, Selia did not want to know. Heathen rituals were abhorrent to her sensibilities.
Thornton opened the volume, noting the date – 1810, it was modern, and within a dozen pages, the plate illustrations were lurid. Half clothed, writhing bodies, with strange markings upon their skin, decorations with objects which to him looked torturous to endure. He did not show the pages to his wife.
Stiles pulled a second book and turned in time to see Thornton snap the first book quickly closed.
“Bizarre, aren‟t they,” he judged Thornton‟s expression correctly. “These will be hardly better, dirty fellows in the dark holes of India. But they are somewhat covered. How these people live in such filth, God only knows.”
He pushed the open book to Thornton, and Selia was drawn to see, but she turned away. The woodcut painted the picture of a man, skeletally thin, a tangled mass of hair, and an accumulation of cloth loosely tied about his loins. The unearthly fellow was standing on a single foot, his two misshapen arms thrust to the sky.
Whether a real representation of his countenance, or some trick of the artist, to scare the reader, the skeletal man was completely lacking color for his eyes. He appeared to have died where he stood. Thornton read only a few words of the caption:
The Holy Man of Rampura, who has remained upright in the posture of the stork for twenty years….
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